Local Stirling food and drink businesses adapt to COVID-19 crisis

Kat & Kevin from gartur Stitch Farm with their sourdough starter kit
Hannah Downey

Local food and drink businesses are adapting to the challenges posed by Covid-19 to support the local community in a time of need.

The Kitchen at 44 King Street and Transition Stirling have been working together to distribute free food during the crisis, helping to feed communities and reduce food waste. Short dated items can be collected from Made in Stirling every evening from around 6.30pm, with strict social distancing measures in place.

Sara MacMillan from The Kitchen said: “We’ve been working alongside M&S, Aldi, Lidl and Sainsbury’s to distribute short dated items each evening to anyone who would like them. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, we are only allowing two people into the shop at a time and are managing the queue outside with sandbags placed at 2m intervals.”

She added: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of our local stores and are pleased to do our bit to support the local community and help reduce food waste at the same time. We’ve also had some incredibly generous egg donations from Egglicious Eggs. We’d especially like to thank Made in Stirling for allowing us to use their shop space for the collections and Arnold Clark Stirling for giving us free van hire to collect the items.”

The Kitchen, which also runs Stirling NeighbourFood, has seen a sharp rise in online orders for its weekly digital farmers’ market. Sara said: “We’ve seen the number of online orders sky-rocket in the past few weeks. The support for local food producers has been fantastic. We’re also offering a limited home delivery service to help those who can’t come to us.”

Balfron NeighbourFood, run by social enterprise The Hub G63, has also witnessed a significant increase in demand for local produce. The market has been offering a home delivery service to those self-isolating, as well as extra collection points in Killearn, Drymen and Aberfoyle.

Ruth Glasgow from The Hub said: “We have been utterly blown away by the number of sales – the local community has just poured over £4000 into the local food economy. What’s more, a hefty chunk of that goes straight to social enterprises and businesses with social and environmental objectives. This means that the actual impact is worth so much more.”

Perthshire Preserves is on of the Neighbourfood producers benefitting from the mini-boom in local sales. Kate Thornhill said: "With farmers' markets and events either cancelling or postponing until later in the year, we've had to rely on the online side of our business. We have a website and are already members of Neighbourfood in Stirling and Balfron. Last week was a bumper week, even bigger than Christmas. Thankfully some of the food shops we supply, such as Egglicious Eggs farm shop in Whins of Milton and House of Cheese in Bridge of Allan, are still open. We'll be keeping them stocked up with jams and chutneys throughout the crisis."

Blair Drummond Smiddy has launched a local food delivery service in response to Covid-19 restrictions.  Nick Moriarty said: “As the last few weeks have unfolded and placed additional restrictions on what we can do, we launched a home delivery service to allow us to continue to serve our community of customers. Two weeks ago, we did one home delivery a week, last week that went to three, and this week demand has been so great we have increased this to five days a week! Having learnt and adapted fast, we are now providing hundreds of fruit and veg boxes and butchers meat packs a week. Other customers, who are either located further away or wish to add in additional products, have been taking advantage of our new 'Click & Collect' system, allowing them to select and pay for our boxes online, and collect from the store with minimal or no contact with staff.”

Community support bakery, Riverside Bakery, has been flooded with orders for fresh bread as Rosi Koll explained: "Our flour supply has been disrupted, with some of the flour we normally work with not being available, so we may have to come up with some new recipes. But all in all, we're rising to the challenge of larger orders, and it is actually quite exciting to know so many people are relying on us for their daily bread - it feels like we're playing a really important role in the local food supply!"

Smallholders, Kat Goldin and Kevin Harrison at Gartur Stitch Farm, have been helping solve the local flour shortage by ordering in bulk to distribute to small businesses and individuals. This week the couple sourced and sold over 4,000kg of flour and have sold over 250 bread and cheese kits through their website; they are also delivering home baked loaves to the local community.

Kat said: “Our make-your-own bread and cheese kits have proved incredibly popular and our meat sales have gone through the roof. In fact, we had more sales in March than we did in the whole of last year. Our orders for NeighbourFood have also increased ten-fold. Buying flour in bulk has helped customers get their hands on this elusive commodity for the first time in weeks and it is also helping to support mills who are struggling because of the downturn in trade from restaurants.”

Meanwhile, Douglas Ross of Allan Brewhouse has adapted to the closure of pubs by offering off sales between 2-4 pm each day and will launch a new free home delivery service this week to customers within a 5-mile radius of the Bridge of Allan Brewery.

Douglas Ross said: “The closure has hit us hard, but we’re glad to be able to offer a home delivery service to allow us to continue to serve our local community at this difficult time and keep our business afloat.”

Local food and drink businesses have also been working together to support each other during the crisis and are in the process of launching a new Forth Valley wide food and drink business network.

The network will promote the area’s rich local larder, as well as provide mutual support – something which is particularly important during the current crisis.

Forth Valley & Lomond LEADER, Stirling Council, Stirlingshire Voluntary Enterprise and local business Stirling PR have been helping get the network off the ground. Programme Manager at LEADER Anne-Michelle Ketteridge said: “In times like these, we rely on our local food networks more than ever. We hope that the legacy of this crisis will be a lasting change to buying habits. By choosing to shop local, you’re supporting the local economy and creating a robust local food supply chain that is there for us in good times and in bad.”

Food businesses who would like to join the network are invited to email info@fvl.org.uk.