Islanders living on Uist and Barra are facing a daily ‘hunger games’ struggle to buy basic fresh food, with eye-watering prices, empty shelves and a dearth of choice.

It comes after a new study into food availability on the Hebridean islands revealed how buying even every-day fresh items such as soft fruit has become a game of chance, hinging on ferries, weather, and even how far the local shop is from the ferry terminal.

A report, compiled by islands’ charity Tagsa Uibhist (‘Uist Support) with food policy and practice organisation Nourish Scotland, set out to examine the affordability and accessibility of basic fruit and vegetable items in Uist and Barra.

It laid bare the shockingly high prices faced by island shoppers and found a key issue was the distances islanders had to trek to reach their closest shops, with journeys that could stretch to 50-miles round trips adding to the costs of their weekly shopping bill.

READ MORE: Islanders facing daily 'hunger games' struggle to buy basic fresh food

Nursery manager Kerry-Anne MacLean, 37, lives in Craigston, Barra, and has four children - Kieran, 13 Jamie, ten, Olivia, nine and Archie, who’s eight.

“The children are always in the cupboards looking for something to eat, so I have to plan meals really carefully,” she says.

“There's a local convenience shop, and it’s really pricey for a family of four.

“It also doesn’t really cater for large families. There’s not really things like a large family-size boxes of cereal or big bags of pasta. I have to buy two or three at a time and that’s more expensive.

“My weekly shopping bill is usually close to £200. Fruit and vegetables are becoming really expensive so on occasion I’ve gone overnight to Oban to shop because it actually works out cheaper to do that.

The Herald: Kerry-Anne MacLean's daughter Olivia cooking at homeKerry-Anne MacLean's daughter Olivia cooking at home (Image: Newsquest)

“I stock up on dairy foods and fresh vegetables and fruit – it tends to last longer than when I buy it locally.

“I have two chest freezers, but I always need a backup plan. You go to the shop thinking ‘we’ll have spag bol tonight’ but then find I can’t get the ingredients, so it’s ‘okay, we’re not having that then’.

“There’s a lot of pizza and pasta eaten.”

Marie Campbell, 74, has lived on south Uist for 25 years after relocating from Alva in Clackmannanshire. She lives alone.

“My nearest shops are 20 minutes in one direction, and 20 minutes in the other direction. Yesterday the ferries were off again, so it all makes it difficult to shop.

“One accepts to a degree that there are difficulties over the accessibility to food, and the freshness of food is part and parcel of living on an island.

“But I feel things are worse now than when I came here and that we are going backwards.

“The quality of the fruit and vegetables seems to be getting worse. The strawberries I bought a couple of days ago are already off. It was ‘one for the plate, one for the bin’.

“I am incandescent that the system designates the two shops I go to as convenience stores which means a huge quantity of ready meals, ice cream and booze but very little real food.

“And everything is more expensive than at a supermarket or superstore. 

“My grandfather was one of the first founders of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, and I try to support the local shops because I don’t want them to shut.

“But it’s very frustrating.”

A spokesperson for Co-op, told The Herald: “Co-op is proud to serve its Island communities,and takes its responsibilities very seriously. Supplies are prioritised due to the unique locations and, teams work hard to keep stock levels replenished – at times, at the mercy of the weather and ferry crossings. 

"All our stores strive to meet the needs of their communities and act on feedback – which is important to us - wherever possible. In August, Co-op also announced its biggest ever single investment in pricing of £70 million, extending its ‘member-only’ pricing across everyday essentials, launching with a list of nearly 200 fixed lines including milk, eggs and, for instance, ensuring the same great value as mainland stores, a loaf of bread in our Castlebay, Isle of Barra, store at just 76p for Co-op Members.”