Alasdair Smith, chief executive of Scottish Bakers, explains how businesses are dealing with the coronavirus challenge.
It has become a cliché to say the current Covid-19 crisis has challenged us all in ways unimaginable over only a few weeks. But following the first week of the most drastic limitations on our public freedom ever experienced by our society, we can reflect on some heroic efforts from our Scottish bakers to keep up with the demand for our daily bread, savoury snacks and sweet treats.
Yes, the sector has been hit hard by retail closures, driven primarily by a collapse in footfall as a result of the lockdown rather than an inability to continue producing and serving, while at the same time adhering to social distancing guidance.
But the flip side is of a sector supporting each other where possible, adapting daily to fluid demands, and resilience in wholesale markets.
Larger businesses like Dunfermline-based Stephens have closed their retail shops, but continue to manufacture for wholesale.
Managing director André Sarafilovic said: “We are continuing to supply our convenience store partners, so our customers can still get their favourite Stephens products, but we can’t wait to open our doors again when it is safe to do so.”
Stanley Johnstone, of Dumfries-based wholesale business Express Bakery, has seen a shift in demand.
“Many of my customers have closed,” he said, “but I’m getting strong support from Tesco and other retailers. I’m also a long-term supplier to the NHS and I’m totally committed to keep going with that for as long as possible.”
We understand the importance of keeping vital, local supply lines open for essential bakery products at this time
The reigning Scottish Baker of the Year, Inverness-based Harry Gow, made the difficult decision earlier in the week to focus on wholesale production to ensure adequate supplies of fresh goods were getting through to the many retail stores they supply. But the strong link they have with their customer base has led them to innovate.
“We understand the importance of keeping vital, local supply lines open for essential bakery products at this time, so we came up with a solution and decided to dust down the classic Harry Gow delivery van,” said David Gow
“We are offering a delivered package at £12.50, which includes bread rolls and butteries. For now, these deliveries will be offered to those staying in the Inverness area only to help us gauge uptake against our capacity so that we can avoid any disappointment.”
Some of Scottish Bakers’ smaller members are also going above and beyond the call of duty.
Keptie Bakery has three retail stores in Angus and all shops continue to trade with strict implementation of social distancing. Husband and wife team Jane and Allan Eaton are going above and beyond the normal call of duty to keep their customers happy too.
“[Baker] Alan is working all the hours available to keep production going,” says Jane, “while I spend my mornings until about 2pm delivering goods to those who cannot get out to the shops. It’s really important to us that we support our community.”
We are in uncharted territory as we move into week two of the lockdown, and we must not forget those businesses that have felt the only viable option is to mothball operations and furlough their workforce. I sincerely hope that the financial support measures being made available will protect the trade until the crisis is behind us.
Meantime, Scottish Bakers is doing everything it can to maintain the flow of information to members, while I know that our members, in turn, will support each other wherever possible to keep our noble and ancient Scottish baking tradition alive.