Taking my role as the American Collegiate Retailing Association’s “Member-at-Large” extremely seriously, ahead of the biennial EAERCD academic conference I recently joined a small (though obviously not-so-select) band on a five-day study tour of Northern Italian food retailing and food production.
Across Milan, Turin, Barolo, Bologna, Modena and Parma, the Italian approach to food and food retailing was sampled, analysed … oh, and yes, rather enjoyed. From the home of the Slow Food Movement, the wonderous Eataly in Turin, the extraordinary wine museum at Barolo, through standard and high-end supermarket and speciality stores to local high quality producers of balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, a love of product and a sense of authenticity and timelessness and the place of food shone through.
Yes, there is mass retailing in Italy and many products are commoditized and homogenous, just as in our retailing, but in addition, there is this fabulous array of local food from, and in, its place.
And it makes me think; could we put on the same sort of experience in Scotland?
Well we have the distilleries and increasingly the micro-breweries. That’s a good start, grounded in heritage and place, yet also increasingly modern. But what next? There are some neat farm shops and some producers. Baxters have tried their best, but seem to have as much non-Scottish as Scottish products, and it all seems divorced from place somehow. Arbroath for the smokies, probably? Loch Fyne and the west coast for some seafood – definitely.
But where’s our fruit and our meat? Where are our markets (though our farmers’ markets are expanding)? And do we engage the (local, national and international) visitor? Can we explain our food culture? Can we join it all together to be convincing and to make a tour?
What shops should we visit? We have the standard offerings; and some of these are amongst the best at what they do in the world, but do they excite, and about Scotland? There are the odd local ones here and there; Valvona and Crolla (but then they’re Italian), Ian Mellis, but my list is not long. There must be more out there?
So are we missing out here? Could we use our world-renowned distilleries and our protected smokies as a base for something more? What would a gastronomic tour of Scotland, or even an agri-cultural (with the emphasis on the latter part) one, look like? Are our producers and retailers set up to explain their heritage and sourcing and their pride in product to our visitors?
Surely we have more to offer than the deep-fried Mars bar of (ill) repute, the occasional haggis and a quick fish supper?
We’ve lost our high value, food retail infrastructure and need to re build it. I can’t wait to see the proposed permanent, covered farmers market at Forthside which could provide a spring board for fledgeling local food producers and developers. We could have a retail experience to rival the likes of the Dublin Food Hall Market and other such venues.
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