I write this from our office, looking out across the fields of our farm and enjoying the September sunshine streaming in the window.
We recently saw the hottest September day in Scotland recorded since 1906.
As a soft drink producer, refreshing thirsty throats, this weather is great for sales. It is also great for a harmonious marriage as my husband, Ross, is happily driving a combine, making his way through our cereal harvest.
To be fair, it has been a great summer of sunshine which has helped our bounce back from Covid lockdowns immensely.
As you might expect, we do most of our sales from Easter and through the summer months so when the first lockdown struck last year our hospitality orders stopped overnight.
In fact, we worked with our foodservice and on-trade customers to take back stock and divert it into retail sales to help reduce potential food waste.
Roll on 12 months and we are back up to full production capacity, struggling to keep up with demand.
I will admit there was many a day in July, when the forecast was wall-to-wall sunshine across the UK, that I longed for some more “traditional” Scottish summer weather so that orders would slow down and we could catch up.
A balmy 17°C at most, a bit of drizzle here and there and the necessity of carrying a kagool with you at all times would have been ideal.
The biggest issues for us this summer were the shortages of just about every packaging input or ingredient.
From next day deliveries to a four-week wait
It was like that TV advert where the fridge is opened and the viewer sees almost empty shelves and only a couple of ingredients to make dinner.
The shortages started early in June when we had to source alternative small glass bottles for our Summerhouse Drinks lemonades as our usual supply was out of stock.
Up until then, we had been able to place an order for a lorry load of these bottles and collect them the next day. We were now faced with a four-week lead time.
With hospitality venues closed or working at a reduced capacity for most of the previous year, our supplier had put a hold on producing this type of bottle as it saw demand fall off a cliff.
And who can blame it? Just like us, throughout the year before, it had focused on ranges that were destined for retail shelves.
By July we had already worked our way through more of our cardboard packaging than we had planned for.
In order to dispatch our drinks safely to our wholesale customers, we use recyclable cardboard trays to produce a sturdy shrink film case.
A worldwide shortage of cardboard due to the massive shift to online sales, with more boxes required for home deliveries, came home to roost when we ran out of these trays before the new order arrived.
I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is to go to all the effort of getting our drinks made, pasteurised labelled and ready for orders from patiently waiting customers, only to fall at the last hurdle when there were no cases to pack them in.
So, we set up a workstation stocked with scissors, a master template and a pile of every bit of suitable cardboard we had.
Anyone who had a spare 10 minutes was sent to cut out our homemade cardboard trays so we could keep the orders going out.
Supply issues seem to have affected every size of company across the board.”
It was no surprise that a massive cheer went through the factory the day the lorry arrived with the new order of trays. Necessity most definitely is the mother of invention.
Since then we have had issues with availability of certain fruit, paper for labels, caps, shrink film and CO₂.
Although we are a small business, supply issues seem to have affected every size of company across the board.
The buying power wielded by a larger company with economies of scale is of no use if there is nothing to buy.
It seems to be created by a perfect storm of Brexit, Covid-19 and the weather which makes it very difficult to resolve.
And once you have bought your inputs, how do you get them delivered with the current shortage of haulage drivers?
Looking ahead, I know we will have a plentiful supply of a key ingredient as I have been watching the crop grow since it was sown in the spring.
Last January we launched Walter Gregor’s Scottish Neep Tonic Water to celebrate Burn’s Night and – due to its popularity – we are bringing it back next year.
I don’t need to find a lorry to get it delivered, I just need to find my wellies.