Chief Executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation, Dr. Pete Cheema OBE, writes his thoughts about the Scotland Loves Local campaign and the ‘love local’ message, as well as on the role of convenience retailers during the coronavirus crisis.
A shock to the system can move society in radically new directions. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented shock to businesses, communities and on our towns. It can take an extended period of time before we can fully assess which new directions this will take us in, but one thing seems clear: the important contribution of the local – the local shop, the local community, the local place – in enabling Scotland to cope with COVID.
If we look at our own sector of independent convenience stores, we can see clear evidence of the pivotal role they have played in supporting customers and communities. Convenience stores effectively minimised the impact of panic buying and empty shelves in the larger retailers. Customers have embraced shopping locally and the sector has captured 30% of the overall grocery market with sales increasing by up to 60%. Being close to their customers – about 70% of customers say they know their local retailer well enough to have a chat with them – meant that convenience stores could easily identify customers who had become vulnerable or who were at risk. Stores then put a massive effort into delivering essential products to these customers.
The convenience sector has shown that it can respond very quickly and extremely effectively to a hugely challenging, rapidly changing and completely unprecedented public health crisis. Given the constraints of space and resources, one of the sector’s most remarkable achievements has been to create safe spaces for customers to shop. They have been able to do all of this because they are flexible, can make decisions quickly and are close to their local communities.
Shocks to the system can force us to recognise that things must be done in a different way and that we need to work together to deliver a new vision for people, places, and communities. The Scotland Loves Local Campaign is exactly the right kind of initiative at exactly the right time and that is why Scottish Grocers Federation is delighted to be a partner.
People in Scotland have embraced local. But we cannot take it for granted that they will stay there. We need strong and consistent messages about the importance of local and crucially we need to show people that local services, businesses, and agencies are responsive to their needs and have adapted to the post-COVID landscape. The campaign is a vital step forward in making this happen.
Image: Dr. Pete Cheema OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation (Credit: Scottish Grocers Federation)