Monday, 2 April 2007

Where our food and drink comes from...

Here's where this household has obtained food and drink from so far this year:

  • Milk, bread, papers, some groceries: local shop

  • Other grocery shopping: local Coop, local shops in Lochmaddy and Balivanich, Tesco online grocery deliveries

  • Spuds: Berneray grown

  • Some other vegetables: grown myself

  • Fresh fish: Dolly's fish van (every tuesday lunchtime, at my door)

  • Eggs: local

  • Wholefoods: Uist Wholefoods

  • Cake and sandwiches: the very good cafe in Taigh Chearsabhagh  

  • Other cake: local fanatical bakers

  • Scallops: out of the sea!

  • Seriously good homemade Lemon curd: Nunton Steadings (also has interesting looking frozen local meat selection I must investigate more)

  • Wine: Virgin Wines, Oddbins, Majestic Wines online deliveries (no am not alcoholic)

  • Other: items brought back on return trips to the mainland

That list doesn't include places I've forgotten about, or meals out in several local places. Expanding the list to include non-consumables adds a lot of online shops we've used this year, including Marks and Spencer, Topshop, Next, John Lewis, BootsPet Planet (cat food and litter), Amazon, Game, Ebay, Toolstation, and several others. This list will inevitably widen over time.

For example, Ikea are gradually increasing the areas they deliver online orders to. This does not - yet - cover Glasgow. When it does, it should be possible to get Ikea to send furniture round to, say, the Hebrides Haulage depot in Glasgow. As with other bulky goods that they zoom up the Outer Hebrides, they will then deliver it to our door.

Each online shop has pluses and minuses. For example, Boots deliver for free when the order is over 40 pounds, and taking advantage of the various 3-for-2 offers (and getting the clubcard points) means that orders can be very good value for money. But the downside is that Boots orders often take between 1 and 2 weeks to arrive, so it's best not to wait until the last tube of toothpaste is nearly empty.

This spread of shopping sources seems to be more the rule than the exception. Many local people use an ever-shifting combination of local shops and online shops for their goods. For example, one resident of Berneray gets much of his fish and meat from several online shops including Manx Kippers, Donald Russell and Loch Fyne.

If there's an online shop that sells good value stuff and delivers here, someone will find it and word will get round. If one particular supplier messes up, word also gets around. Residents compare online shopping experiences; a small group of Berneray residents have worked out, in some detail, the best value places to buy cat litter and food online.

What does this mean? Five things:

  1. People here are astonishingly good at researching various options for acquiring goods, especially online. Never, ever, underestimate a Hebridean resident's abilities in finding a bargain.

  2. People here communicate voraciously; social networks (both in the real world sense and the Web 2.0 sense) are constantly active. Much is recommended and decided via "word of mouth" or email.

  3. We've got access to very nearly all the goods that people who live on the mainland have.

  4. "Local" is not enough for most residents. The four factors of quality, choice, convenience of shop, and overall price also matter.

  5. Without the Internet and deliveries, shopping would be a lot more restrictive in choice. Without the net, the Outer Hebrides would be for many people (incomers and people born here) a very unattractive place to live compared with, well, everywhere else. And would be rapidly heading to the same social status as St Kilda.

And yes, I did say Tesco online shopping for grocery deliveries. This came up at a community council meeting; some enquiries revealed that several residents of the Uists and Benbecula had been doing this for a while.

So I tried it, and a few nights ago was tucking into my favourite pizza, Sloppy Guiseppe, one of the Pizza Express range. Tesco sell them, so it was part of my online order which soon appeared at my door. Yum! (just wish they were a little bigger).

There's a widely-circulated myth that there are four areas of the UK not touched by Tesco, namely Harrogate, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and the Outer Hebrides. This is rubbish, as there isn't one in the Scilly Islands but there is a Tesco Express in Harrogate. Also, the myth is deflated by the growing number of Outer Hebrides residents doing their Tesco grocery shop online and, in a neat way, having it delivered to their door. That, and the implications of it, are in the second part of this posting.


  1. Hi there.....Just thought I'd let you know, I live on the Isles Of Scilly with my wife and four children. We have a weekly order delivered from Tescos by helicopter. It is a lifeline for us as the cost of grocerys in our tiny Co oP is through the roof. A £100 order from Tescos saves us about £40.MAny other people on the islands have their orders sent on the Scillonion III (the steamer from Penzance as this reduces the freight cost. (I work for the helicopter co. and get my freight free)HAving said all that, we also buy local meats and veg, and Vicki has just started ordering a box of organic veg from a farm in Devon.

  2. How'd you go about signing up for Tesco online though - when I try to sign up it sees my HSx postcode and says "sorry, we don't deliver there" ...

  3. David: full details of how to do it are in the follow-up posting.

  4. very interesting! Particularly the bit about '“Local” is not enough for most residents. The four factors of quality, choice, convenience of shop, and overall price also matter.'I don't shop at Tesco, because I think they are not necessarily the best way to go to sustain UK agriculture, and I am concerned about their sourcing policies overseas. I think I get enough quality choice and convenience without them, using the co-op and local sources. And that is in the Western Isles. But then I don't have a telly either. You can get used to anything really.

  5. We are a young (ish) couple who have spent the last few years exploring scotland and the western isles with a view to one day moving up, probably to the Hebrides. Then I come across your 'blog' and read it in total bemusement!Do we not live and visit these outstanding islands and communities to get away from the mainland nonsense? The last thing I would possibly want to do is order food/ goods from tesco online!! I understand, and have experienced that some food and goods on the Western Isles do seem to be sold at a premium price, but that surely is to be expected. You can't expect the local shops and retailers to compete on price with the likes of tescos and other big chains.Surely as a community you would support your local shops and suppliers in an attempt to encourage and grow the islands' economies.Your point about St. Kilda I think is somewhat misinformed. The Kildan Community existed for over 1000 years without any help from the mainland. In fact, it was the contact with the mainland that eventually led to their downfall. So why are we trying to allow another community to head toward a similar fate?There are few true gems left in the world today, so why spoil what's left.If you want to shop at tesco, then perhaps the Hebrides isn't the place for you to live!If it ain't broke, don't try and fix it.Please try and leave the beautiful Western Isles alone so that people like ourselves and many others can enjoy them for what they really are............Stunning.

  6. Tony, with all due respect and all, your comment comes across as pretty ill-informed and not a little arrogant. Your comments about supporting the local community particularly - if you knew anything about this weblog's writer, you'd know that he's very active in just that.People come to the Western Isles / Outer Hebrides for lots of different reasons. Those coming here looking to "escape the mainland nonsense" will be sorely disappointed. You may be surprised to learn, but it's 2007 here too, just as it is on the other side of the Minch. Although you'd probably want us all to be living in blackhouses, weaving our own hairshirts and spending our summers at the shielings, we've all got proper, 21st Century lives to live. Thankfully.I live here in Lewis, I've family here in Lewis, my children are being brought up in Lewis, my wife runs a business here, we're both active supporters of all manner of local community things. What we don't do is turn the place into a living museum so that you can swan in here for five minutes a year to recharge your oh so tired mainland batteries, spend a few of your precious mainland pounds on some locally produced tourist tat and then b*gger off back to moan about how there's all these real people with real jobs who heaven forbid want to live real lives here.Personally, I hope you do manage to come here and live the life that you want. And leave the rest of us to live ours too.

  7. Wait till we start asking for an IKEA!!!!

  8. Is "Tony" a real person, or is this someone "trolling"? I live here. I am not a tourist who arrogantly wants everything kept "stunning" for them on the off-chance they may move here. Perhaps Tony sees himself as the new laird? Someone should tell him we have had a community buyout, and he is a little late.My local shopkeeper is an imbecile. He opens and closes without warning, at hours that suit him only. He is totally inflexible. He is rude to old people. He will not deliver, or go out of his way to be convenient. His stock range is limited, sometimes out of date. We know when it is as he obscures the date with a black marker. And it is hideously expensive. And if you buy items, then this becomes the subject of his gossip. It is probably a good thing that he doesn't stock sanitary products. He says 'we don't do that kind of thing here'. What, menstruate?There is also an issue with the general cleanliness of his store.But he explodes if he hears of anyone shoping elsewhere. We should all be shopping in his store, as it is "local". Never mind that he does most of his own shopping on his monthly trip to the mainland. Hypocrite or liar? You decide.So "Tony" - if that is his real name - prefers that kind of shopping experience to Tesco? If he ends up moving here, he is in for a miserable surprise. And I would strongly advise his wife to do one MASSIVE shop at Boots before moving here if you are not going to do any online shopping.No. I have just read his comment again. I think it is a wind-up. No-one is that stupid. Are they?