Scottish consumers are proud of their food heritage, and the major supermarkets are looking to make the most of this via a variety of ‘local’ initiatives

Scottish food has quite the reputation. From some of the finest beef and salmon in the world, through to curiosities like haggis and deep-fried Mars bars, it attracts both admiration and derision.

While scotch whisky delivered £4.8bn in exports alone last year, and Aberdeen Angus is considered a hallmark of quality, earlier this year a Scottish chippy was exposed as the UK’s most outrageous takeaway.

East West Spice, based in Greenock, offers a 6,813-calorie £10 meal deal ‘Crunchy Box’ that bundles up a two-litre bottle of Irn-Bru, chips, two battered pizza crunches, two battered fish, two battered sausages, two battered hamburgers and a handful of onion rings and chicken nuggets, all deep-fried (apart from the Irn-Bru).

A Facebook post called it ‘the most Scottish thing I’ve seen’. That’s up for debate, but Scotland undoubtedly has a unique mix of food it can call its own. And that mix, combined with a fierce sense of national pride, represents an opportunity for supermarkets to create bespoke ranges for Scottish stores to deliver the local food Scottish shoppers are after.

It’s why Tesco introduced a sourcing team dedicated to Scotland in the 1990s, a team which now manages over 700 local lines. It also works alongside suppliers acting as a “gateway to UK listings to support, identify and work with those Scottish suppliers who have the scale and expertise to grow to national distribution”.

Asda says the desire for Scottish shoppers to keep it local keeps growing. Its own customer insight shows that “local identity is taking on an increased importance in the minds of our customers, and 84% of people said they are more likely to buy brands that give something back to the local community”.

Like Tesco, it also says “supporting local producers is critical” and it does “everything we can to nurture our suppliers and help them grow their businesses”.

But it’s M&S that can claim to be the pioneer of the local approach in Scotland. It first began sourcing from Scottish producers in the 1930s and has worked with meat supplier Scotbeef, for example, for 57 years.

It also “supports new businesses, like the Edinburgh-based The Old Curiosity Distillery, which saw its popular colour-changing gin make its debut in M&S last year,” says Steve McLean, head of technology, agriculture, fisheries & procurement at M&S. “We support our Scottish stores with Scottish beef, lamb, salmon, trout, crab and haddock and we source Scottish fruit and berries from our suppliers, Fyfe.”

It also makes room for “Scottish family favourite brands” like Mackie’s ice cream, Mothers Pride bread, Tunnock’s Teacakes and Irn-Bru, as well as Graham’s Gold Top milk, butter and yoghurt. It’s even more local than that though, stocking “local bakery Mortons’ rolls in 18 shops in and around Glasgow”.

The Co-op has a strong presence with 350 food stores and, like M&S, employs 6,500 staff north of the border. Kevin Buchan, divisional ranging manager for Co-op in Scotland, says it is “passionate about Scottish food and drink, and keen to develop our offering and work with more Scottish local partners”. Products recently introduced to Scottish Co-ops include Hamilton-based Equi’s Ice Cream. “Our relationship with the Co-op has been extremely successful for us,” says Equi’s. “Our coverage across Scotland has increased greatly.”

The Co-op also works with 150 farms in Scotland, producing free-range eggs, outdoor-born pork, Red Tractor dairy, beef, lamb and “responsibly sourced” salmon. All the Co-op’s top tier Irresistible beef products in Scottish stores are Aberdeen Angus, supplied by a dedicated Co-op Farming Group (it has a similar model for Scottish lamb). All packs carry the saltire.

The importance of provenance

Iceland’s regional manager for Scotland, Jock Wither, has worked in retail for 30 years, and believes “local suppliers and Scottish provenance is more important to our customers than ever”.

Of course, “lots of people just want the right product at the right price,” he admits, “and don’t care where it comes from, but lots of people do like the concept of supporting Scottish suppliers and what it means to local businesses. There is also a little bit of a political thing, people just want to support Scotland on principle. And I think people do think about food miles.”

Retailers who have realised this have capitalised on it. “It’s what Scottish shoppers want and you have to stay in tune with your customers, because the minute you don’t, you’re in trouble.”

Andrew Niven, who heads up the SFA’s market and consumer intelligence team, says local sourcing was historically “part of a supermarket’s CSR policies, it was something they felt they should be doing, but that has changed over the last decade. Retailers now realise that stocking local means selling more. Price will always play a part, but on a like-for-like pricing basis people are more likely to buy a local product.

“I think there is a bit more pride generally among Scottish shoppers for home-grown produce”

“Marketing has helped, playing the provenance angle. There is also more of a realisation that shorter supply chains are a good thing and getting fruit or veg from hundreds of miles away is not when we grow it here. And there is a bit more pride generally among Scottish shoppers for home-grown produce.”

He thinks Scottish producers could do more to win listings ahead of imports, though. “We have a supplier development programme to create JBPs with retailers. We have to make producers more capable and understand what the market is looking for.”

As for the retailers doing the best job in Scotland, Niven says “the discounters have been driving their Scottish sourcing hard for a few years now, and the way they promote it is very important. Aldi has really caught the zeitgeist of what Scottish shoppers are after.” Aldi’s even repackaged its lorne sausage as a ‘sausedge’ for the benefit of English shoppers, though some Scots haven’t appreciated what they see as cultural appropriation.

The discounters first landed in Scotland in 1994. Lidl’s estate is slightly larger (98 stores vs 85 at Aldi) but Aldi was more ahead of the curve on the sourcing side, launching a dedicated Scottish buying team in 2009. Crucially, Scottish products were not allowed to cost the customer any more than the same non-Scottish product. “This has never been compromised,” says Jonathan Neale, MD of buying at Aldi.

The team “initially focused on fresh meat, dairy and fish. More recently we started to develop an artisanal range of Scottish bakery items, beers and spirits.” It works with “over 90 suppliers” – up 16% on 2016.

A recent NFU Scotland survey put Aldi top for sourcing fresh meat from Scottish suppliers. It also sells 100% Scottish milk, butter and cream under its McCallums brand and Scottish cheddar under its Glen Lochy brand. Neale says in 2017 Aldi created a ‘Supporting Scottish Dairy’ logo, which indicates the product is “produced by local Scottish businesses”.

Lidl launched a “dedicated Scottish buying function” of its own in 2016 with the “key objective of sourcing the best products in Scotland and bringing them to the shelves in our stores”. It now works with over 60 Scottish suppliers. “By sourcing as locally as possible we ensure we are supporting the local Scottish economy and producers, but also keeping transport costs low and offering the freshest products.”

Lidl also loves modern marketing methods. It says the customer demographic is “incredibly varied across Scotland, both in terms of geography and demography”. So it chooses “relevant messages on the best platform to reach their needs and expectations” and social media “geo-targets our Scottish audience with unique content. Posts reach around 500,000 potential customers each week and include Scottish dialect and relevant cultural references to align with local communities.”

“All the Scottish lines we’ve launched have been very successful – we have yet to launch a Scottish line which hasn’t been”

On the food front, Lidl says its 300-strong ‘Pick of Scotland’ range is a winner. In 2018 it received Good Housekeeping Reader Recommended status, the “first time a retailer had been recognised for an entire range by Good Housekeeping”, with “nearly 90% of the reader panel voting the quality as ‘excellent’.

In terms of physical growth, it’s also moving to a new DC near Motherwell in November to “support our continued ambitious expansion plans as we look to reach 100 stores in Scotland by the start of next year”.

Aldi isn’t far behind. “We are working to open seven stores across Scotland, bringing the total to 92 by the end of 2019,” says Neale. But it’s by no means just the discounters keeping busy in Scotland.

Tesco’s Scottish stores may yet be caught up in the retailer’s latest job cull, but its dedicated Tesco Scotland Twitter account is packed with photos of community work and positive charitable donations. Asda says its ‘Scotland local’ concept is in “continual growth year on year”.

Morrisons’ online expansion suggests early online sales were strong and Sainsbury’s continues to expand its c-store network and open in-store Argos outlets. Iceland says its recent range expansion has been “very successful, now we have this full range we are trading ahead of the core estate, so it had a massive impact on our business in Scotland”. And the Co-op’s programme of refits and increasing infrastructure demonstrates its commitment to its Scottish stores.

As for M&S, it says “all the Scottish lines we’ve launched have been very successful – we have yet to launch a Scottish line which hasn’t been.”

Which sums up Scottish food. It’s got quite the reputation, but whether you’re crunching on a deep-fried Mars bar, sipping the smoothest scotch or slicing into a steak as soft as butter, there is usually a very delicious reason for that.


How have the biggest supermarkets targeted Scotland? 




Stocks more than 400 Scottish-sourced products from over 90 suppliers and aims to increase this number to over 450 by the end of 2020. Over a quarter of its range is made up of products sourced from Scotland, up from 16% in 2016. Its seasonal range also grew by 37% from 2017 to 2018. Its 25-strong Scottish buying department is, Aldi says, “committed to bringing the best of our Scottish larder to our consumers. We believe this is the biggest buying team of all the top six food retailers on the ground in Scotland.




Ranges more than “1,000 Scottish local lines from over 100 Scottish suppliers. We currently have a senior buying manager, buying manager and trading assistant covering Scottish local suppliers. Core commodities such as Scottish milk, beef and bakery are managed by the national buying teams. We have the flexibility to stock a product in only one store or all 600, depending on the needs of the customer, and we work hard to adapt to Scotland’s micro-markets to ensure we have the best possible range”




The Co-op in Scotland ranges more than 1,800 Scottish lines and over 120 Scottish brands thanks to its “dedicated buying teams,” says a spokesman. “We have around 350 food stores in Scotland and already this year the business has made a significant investment into refitted stores. Last year a new £6m DC opened in Inverness, which services the Co-op’s extensive network in northern Scotland, and will also facilitate future store expansion. The Co-op works with around 150 different farms in Scotland.”




Scotland regional manager for Iceland, Jock Wither, says Iceland always stocked Scottish favourites “from back in the day, but it wasn’t that large for a long time, it was just no-brainer key lines like Irn-Bru. When I got this job five years ago I was keen to expand it and make it more credible. We had about 20 SKUs and we have well over 100 now. We often do range reviews to see what’s working and we stay close to our suppliers to see what is coming up. Everyone knows the objective is to grow the range as and when we can.”




Stocks “over 300 Scottish products in our Scottish stores and we are committed to increasing this﷯. Created in 2016, we have a dedicated Scottish buying team ﷯in Glasgow who work directly with more than 60 Scottish suppliers to prioritise sourcing Scottish produce. Since introducing the function, the team has worked to develop our Scottish range and within their first year launched ‘The Pick of Scotland’ – our assortment of own-label Scottish products that have dedicated and innovative branding for each category.”




M&S is “proud of the fact that we have established a strong Scottish supplier network over nearly 60 years. M&S has a network of over 40 food suppliers in Scotland, who work with more than 4,000 farms supplying us with fantastic products. Over 2,500 M&S products are made from raw materials from Scottish producers. We have recently bolstered our Scotland-only range with products including beef olives, lorne sausage, Scottish steak sausages and a breakfast pack that includes beef sausage, fruit pudding and black pudding.”




Morrisons is “committed to providing food and drink items from Scottish producers in its Scottish stores wherever possible”.

The acquisition of Safeway gave it a strong leg up, and it has stayed strong. Its branded milk comes from Scottish dairy farmers, as do its potatoes, swede and cabbages. In March it doubled its online delivery operation in Scotland, months after launch. is this month expanding its operations from Edinburgh and Glasgow to locations including Dundee, Falkirk, Perth and Stirling. 




NFU Scotland was a vocal opponent of the Sainsda merger, saying it would lead to “greater potential for unfair trading”. And in May profits at Edinburgh-based Sainsbury’s Bank fell to £31m, from £69m.

But Sainsbury’s, which opened its first Scottish store in 1984, now operates around 100 supermarkets and c-stores there and employs about 9,000 people. When he opened its 100th Scottish store, CEO Mike Coupe said “Our business in Scotland is diverse and growing. We’re looking forward to building on the success of the last three decades.”




Tesco says it was the first major multiple to have a dedicated local sourcing team: “so long ago we think it was established in the 1990s”. Its Scottish local sourcing team is based in two hubs in Glasgow and Dundee along with a base in Tesco’s UK head office. The Scottish team manages over 700 lines, though a spokesman says this “doesn’t include our significant local range that has successfully grown to national distribution, or the hundreds of Scottish lines sourced by our fresh and packaged teams for own brand”.



Waitrose 1

Stocks more than 800 Scottish products from “summer berries and cream to bacon and eggs” and uses a saltire sticker to promote them. It says it’s “proud to champion local suppliers” with all the Essential milk in its Scottish branches produced by a group of dedicated Scottish dairy farmers. Highlights from its range include Ayrshire potatoes, handmade Katy Rodgers yoghurt from Fintry and the Audrey Baxter Signature range of relishes, made in Speyside. It first opened in 1996 and now has seven Scottish branches, including two in Glasgow.