By Fiona Richmond, Head of Regional Food at Scotland Food & Drink

CONVENTIONAL wisdom may suggest that an increasing reliance on online shopping is a danger to small businesses, but that’s not always the case. Within Scotland’s food and drink industry, a growing movement of buying regional goods on specialist online market places is helping, rather than hindering, local producers.

The popularity of localised online retailing is clear: hundreds of small food and drink businesses are represented across the 10 online markets designed for local food producers in Scotland. These are based all over Scotland, from The Tree in St Andrews to The Great British Food Hub in Milngavie and Food Lochaber. Another 12 of these hyper-localised online markets are planned to launch this year and into next, such is their success.

It’s easy to understand why this medium is taking off.

Customers can enjoy all the benefits traditionally associated with click and collect shopping – with the bonus of being able to discover interesting new products and suppliers from their sofa. And there’s arguably an even more compelling factor – confidence in provenance.

Scotland as a brand is already powerful; 82 per cent of Scots think we produce the best whisky, 76 per cent the best beef and 75 per cent the best salmon – and more than half of UK consumers agree. Allowing local consumers to easily source and buy such highly regarded produce opens up new commercial opportunities.

Local producers are utilising the online model and the new audiences it delivers to. There’s also the cost factor: using this direct format can reduce overheads for small businesses while building new loyal and local customer relationships.

Localised online markets eliminate some barriers to entry faced by small-scale suppliers. For example, where shop-fronts in prime locations can be costly, creating an online shop window can level the playing field.

It’s as easy to buy fruit and veg from your local farmer online as it is from a multi-national chain and this way, customers can be 100 per cent confident of where their food comes from.

Scotland Food & Drink exists to promote the industry and those working in it regardless of scale. For us, supporting new ways of distributing world-class produce that can save those responsible resources in a sustainable way is a win-win situation.

One of the success stories so far has been that of Stirling Neighbourfood, run by Forth Environment Link. Users log on; pick produce from local businesses and order. They then pick up their goods from Creative Stirling’s Made in Stirling store, which is in the heart of the high street and also supports local artists and craftspeople. With more than 6,300 baskets sold so far and £130,000 injected into the local economy, the project has been a huge success.

Localised online retailing can be a key growth driver, helping to realise the industry’s national strategy. Called Ambition 2030, it aims to increase the value of the food and drink industry in Scotland to £30bn by 2030.

Innovation in delivering Scottish products to markets will undoubtedly help to build on the success of our collective food and drink industry and benefit both consumers and suppliers. The food and drink industry in Scotland has never been stronger, partly because of those supporting producers of all sizes. Online markets are a great example of helping to connect consumers to the very best local producers that make Scotland’s larder great.