“Feed the nation” became a familiar mantra during the height of the coronavirus lockdown, as food retailers worked hard to keep their doors open and essentials on shelves for the benefit of their customers.

Our supply chain and our farming community were crucial during lockdown. It is time we celebrate these unsung heroes who worked tirelessly to provide the essential produce which helped retailers keep the nation fed.

Right now, the country is celebrating Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight. The event celebrates something that we all know Scotland does well – producing exceptional food and drink – and it also drives promotion of a growing contributor to Scotland’s economy, one that we can all support, simply by buying delicious Scottish products. Indeed, the industry is worth around £14 billion each year, employs around 115,400 people and even accounts for one in five manufacturing jobs.

At M&S, our commitment to Scottish suppliers is arguably more important now than it has been since we started sourcing from Scottish producers back in the 1930s.

More than 2,500 products available across our full store estate feature fantastic Scottish raw ingredients. We source from over 40 Scottish suppliers, who work with more than 4,000 Scottish farmers. Over 60 per cent of all M&S beef is Scottish and all our farmed salmon, crab and mackerel is sourced in Scotland and distributed to stores across the UK and beyond. We’ve recently announced a new partnership with Brownings the Bakers, based in Kilmarnock, who are kicking off our relationship by supplying 59 of our stores in Scotland with traditional tattie scones.

Much of our food offer in Scotland comes in direct response to consumer demand. Over the last couple of years, we have introduced new product lines in areas of the country where there are particular levels of demand. For Burns Night in 2019, we launched a whisky sauce – and sold out of all 12,000 units ahead of the day. It was so popular that it has now become a permanent fixture in our Cook With range.

Our food strategy focuses on maintaining the quality our customers are used to but we have reduced prices on more than 400 lines. Just last month, we introduced our Remarksable range, which features around 200 of our most popular products, including our 100% traceable, 12% fat Scottish beef mince, our responsibly sourced Scottish salmon and fruit and veg from our M&S Select Farms, to deliver even greater value without losing any of the quality we are known and loved for.

Innovation remains critical to growing, reaching and retaining our customer base and we continually seek out new product lines and recipe ideas which we know will resonate with customers. One recipe we’re championing now is our Scottish Cranachan Jacks, which are a modern twist on a Scottish staple.

We are exceptionally proud of our heritage with Scottish suppliers, even more so over the past few months, when they have faced many challenges due to the pandemic. Issues such as labour shortages at such critical times as harvest didn’t stop them from supplying us with an abundance of top-quality produce.

It is during periods of life like this that you truly understand the importance of appreciating what you have on your doorstep. Scotland is so rich in its food and drink offering that we should be championing our incredible producers all year round – not just for a fortnight.

David Bates, Head of region for the West of Scotland at M&S.