Lockdown has made us shop and eat locally - here's why that needs to continue

The eating and consumer habits we’ve developed during the coronavirus crisis should be the new normal, says Rosalind Erskine.

Published 6th May 2020
Updated 9 th Aug 2023

I’m waiting slightly impatiently for the food to be plated up and served. It’s a three-course affair made up of ceviche, risotto and citrus posset. But I’m not in a high-end restaurant, I’m at my dining room table with my work laptop to my right and a makeshift gym to my left.

Food and variations on cooking and eating have been one of the main distractions at the centre of lockdown. From scrolling through splendid sourdoughs on Instagram to tweeting about cakes, many of us are finding comfort in cooking and balance in baking. It’s no real surprise that grocery sales of flour were up 92 per cent in the four weeks to 22 March compared to the same period last year.

Buying local

It’s not just what we’re eating and making – how we are shopping has changed too. Since being advised to only head to the supermarket for essentials, many of us have sought to buy from what’s on our doorstep.

I’ve been signed up to a local veg box delivery for 18 months now but have, in the past few weeks, been adding ever more from their online shop to my weekly order . I’m not the only one – data from the Food Foundation shows UK veg box sales have increased by 111 per cent in the six weeks between the end of February 2020 and mid-April 2020.

To help with demand and offer an alternative to supermarket deliveries, new online outlets for local producers have sprung up, such as Edinburgh’s Romaine Calm.

Latest suppliers include Perthshire’s Great Glen Charcuterie and Bross Bagels. Not only is our spending supporting local businesses, it’s bringing quality, seasonal produce home – something lost amid the global variety on supermarket shelves.

Food deliveries

For those less keen to cook, the past week has seen more and more businesses reopening. Edinburgh favourites such as Harajuka Kitchen, Leftfield, Contini on George Street and Honeycomb & Co are back, and even fine dining is available.

Tasting menu king Nico Simeone is making his way into dining rooms in Edinburgh and Glasgow with his Home by Nico four-course delivery, Mother India is starting a pre-order service and Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip can bring their classics to your door.

Which brings me to my dinner, a restaurant quality affair easily taken out of its takeaway containers and cooked at home courtesy of Cail Bruich, an award-winning restaurant in Glasgow’s west end.

Wanting to offer support and a need to get back to some kind of normal appears to be what has prompted these reopenings, as Asif Ali, general manager of the Mother India Group, explains: “We initially closed our establishments before social distancing guidelines were issued by the government, and have remained closed for two months, taking into account the health and safety of our customers and staff. Our decision to open up now was due to customer demand.”

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Rachel Chisholm, co-owner of Edinburgh’s Leftfield, has reopened in response to similar demand. “People really miss bistros and restaurants.

"In our recent customer survey 75 per said they would come back to restaurants as soon as it was safe to do so and if they were assured all government regulations were being followed. In the meantime, as long as people want us and we can operate safely we will produce restaurant quality platters full of locally sourced goodies and sell organic, biodynamic wines for collection.

"It’s been so good to feel busy and hopeful again for the first time since that awful week before the official shutdown.”

Fife's Buffalo Farm has had to change its business model in order to survive, and has found that local support is ensuring the business thrives.

Owner, Steven Mitchell says: "We have had to change enormously as at lockdown we basically lost three out of our four revenue streams with our wholesale business to hotels and restaurants, our events catering team had all their events cancelled and we were forced to close our Bothy coffee shop and bistro.

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"Thankfully we are more than surviving, we are actually growing our online sales and local deliveries which is seeing us increase revenue.

"The website traffic is up 300 per cent year on year with about 50,000 visits in April. And we are now delivering to about 150-200 customers per day.

"No staff have been furloughed - even the ones from our cafe, The Bothy, which had to close. Chefs are prepping new, easy dinner products which we are selling - one proved so popular we sold 1000 packs in two weeks.

Our delivery drivers all now focused on local deliveries to customers. We introduced essential products, such as fruit and veg boxes, flour, milk and bread sourced from local suppliers.

"It has been hard work but it's very rewarding knowing that we are helping the community. I couldn’t have done it without the commitment of the team."

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While we navigate our way through this pandemic, finding a comfort and focus in food, let’s not lose sight of what’s on our doorstep post-Covid. It’ll be tempting to rush back to big supermarkets for convenience, but I hope we don’t forget the small teams that delivered our weekly supplies and treats that made lockdown life that little bit more bearable.

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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