L-R: Daniel Johnson, the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern; Colin Smith, SWA CEO; and Richard Lochhead MSP, the Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade

Wholesale has been in the spotlight at Holyrood at a Scottish Wholesale Association Parliamentary Reception – attended by MSPs across all parties. The event was staged to celebrate the importance and resilience of the Scottish wholesale sector and help politicians to gain greater understanding about all channels of Scotland’s food and drink sector.

Sponsored by Daniel Johnson, the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern and featuring a keynote speech by Richard Lochhead MSP, the Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade, the reception was attended by Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) members the length and breadth of the country, including Brian Johnston, general manager of JW Gray in the Shetland Islands.

Attended by 120 SWA members and partner organisations along with over 35 MSPs, the Parliamentary Reception saw Colin Smith, SWA chief executive, tell his audience: “We represent an industry that is literally the wheels to Scotland’s food and drink supply chain, and yet until Covid hit we were a relatively unknown sector within the Scottish Government and across the Parliament – that’s despite wholesale being vital to food security and its supply into our local communities, our schools, hospitals, tourism, hospitality and leisure outlets.”

He also stressed the wholesale sector’s importance to the Scottish economy and its transition to net zero, adding: “Scotland’s wholesale marketplace is now worth around £3.3 billion with Scotland representing approximately 10% of the total UK wholesale channel.”

To demonstrate the diversity of the Scottish wholesale sector, six SWA members – Brakes, CJ Lang & Son, Glencrest, Inverarity Morton, JW Gray, Lomond Fine Foods and Mark Murphy – showcased their businesses around the Garden Lobby with MSPs speaking to representatives to learn more.

Edinburgh-based Mark Murphy, a foodservice supplier of fruit and vegetables and other produce, was there to discuss with MSPs the SWA’s Wholesale Local Food Champion project. Mark Murphy was one of the first wholesalers to get on board with the project which is an extension of the SWA’s successful Delivering Growth Through Wholesale (DGTW) producer initiative, launched in 2021 and a collaboration with SAOS and Scotland Food & Drink.

Its aim is to encourage Scotland’s wholesalers to identify individuals who collectively take responsibility for shaping the local sourcing strategy within their business.

Before introducing Richard Lochhead, Mr Smith paid tribute to the Scottish Government for its financial support during the pandemic when the economy closed down and with it 50% of the wholesale sector.

“Securing £20 million of direct wholesale support grant funding from the Scottish Government was truly a cross-party achievement and testament to those within the government and the opposition who spent time working with us to understand our channel and how our businesses were being impacted,” he said.

“However, we were always clear that the funding wasn’t there just to ensure members survived – it was there to ensure post-Covid that members had the ability to rebuild a strong and sustainable local food and drink supply chain.”

Addressing guests and MSPs, Mr Lochhead said: “Wholesalers play a vital role in connecting Scottish producers with retailers and consumers, ensuring that everyone has access to fresh, high-quality food and drink.”

The minister paid tribute to JW Gray which had explained the unique challenges faced by island wholesalers partly due to weather-related connectivity issues and their key role in keeping communities, hospitals and care homes supplied all year round.

Mr Lochhead recognised how wholesale provides food security and resilience in communities across Scotland, particularly in remote areas, saying: “Wholesalers play an especially important role in the Scottish islands – helping to ensure that islanders have access to the same high-quality food and drink as people on the mainland.”

Highlighting the “important and successful” role the SWA played during the pandemic, Mr Lochhead commented: “Over the past three years, the SWA has carried out outstanding work to highlight the importance of the wholesale sector to ministers, officials, and Parliament. I know how difficult a time that was for many wholesale businesses and I am impressed by the association's foresight in planning for the sector’s recovery and strengthening it after the pandemic.

“I am pleased also that the SWA and wholesalers have been working in partnership with the [Scottish Government] food and drink team as well as other trade bodies such as Scotland Food & Drink and Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society to further the success of Scotland’s economic wellbeing.”

Mr Lochhead added: “I think it is important that the Scottish Government has supported and invested in the SWA’s Delivering Growth Through Wholesale programme. This collaboration is helping distribute and grow Scotland’s plentiful food and drink resources, from the local farmer and producer through to some of Scotland’s largest manufacturers.”

Inviting MSPs to sign the SWA’s ‘We’re supporting Scottish Wholesale’ board, Mr Smith concluded the reception by extending an invitation to all MSPs to visit a wholesaler in their constituency to see first-hand the “extraordinary lengths they go to, to ensure we truly are creating a strong, sustainable local food and drink supply chain”.