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Stornoway Housing

A week of living Danishly for Hebridean islanders

Funding from HIE has helped Hebridean business owners learn how to capitalise on food and drink tourism from a Danish foodie heaven, the island of Bornholm.

Funding from HIE has helped Hebridean business owners learn how to capitalise on food and drink tourism from a Danish foodie heaven, the island of Bornholm.

Can you name a remote island with a reputation for excellent seafood that is home to some of the finest natural culinary ingredients, several innovative chefs and an emerging foodie scene? You would be forgiven for thinking the answer is almost any one of the Hebridean islands. But the island we’re talking about in this case is, in fact, Bornholm: a Danish island in the Baltic Sea with a population of 50,000.

Thanks to funding from HIE, ten people from a range of Hebridean food and drink businesses headed to Bornholm on a week-long learning journey at the end of March 2022. The idea was to learn from an island - and islanders - who experience many of the same challenges as the Outer Hebrides: a short tourist season, challenging supply chains, a lack of young people and difficulty keeping and selling locally grown and made products on the island. Bornholm has long been a favourite holiday destination for Danes and its popularity is growing, with particular interest from foodies and those interested in locally made textiles, pottery, art and glassware.

Eat Drink

Eat Drink Hebrides

The businesses who took part in the trip to Bornholm are all members of Eat Drink Hebrides, which was established in 2016 to support food and drink businesses across the Outer Hebrides, from Barra to the Butt of Lewis. The visiting group included food producers, retailers, chefs, restaurant owners and front of house staff from businesses such as Harbour Kitchen, North Uist Distillery and Eriskay Community Shop.

Julie Sloan is employed as a project manager for Eat Drink Hebrides, which is one of seven regional food groups in the Highlands and Islands looking to celebrate and support local food and drink and put their produce firmly on the map. When nearly £20,000 of funding from HIE’s Regional Food Groups grant fund was awarded to Eat Drink Hebrides, Julie worked with members to shortlist projects that would bring the most value to all. A learning journey was identified as the top priority.

Julie says: “I carried out a lot of research into places that represent best practice when it comes to food tourism, and I also wanted to find a location that reflects our island communities. Bornholm is such a good fit.”

Julie worked with Bornholm’s own food and drink group, Gourmet Bornholm, to design a packed itinerary for the visit, which saw delegates visit a food market, a farm, breweries and a smokehouse. On top of this, there were visits to a pasta maker who is using locally grown durum wheat, a grilled cheese pop up café and a Michelin-starred restaurant that employs a full-time forager and two gardeners.

“Even with my high expectations prior to the trip, I was blown away by the experience,” says Julie. “I’ve never been anywhere like it. The main thing that was apparent was the level of collaboration and support between all the businesses on Bornholm: they stock each other's products, and go out of their way to incorporate them as ingredients in their own products.”

Seeing the creativity, innovation and collaboration between the Bornholm producers has given us all ideas for how to further enhance our food and drink offering within the islands.
Kate MacDonald, North Uist Distillery
Seafood on a plate at Captain's Galley seafood restaurant, Scrabster, Caithness

An inspirational vist

The visitors clearly learnt a huge amount from their hosts, but there has been an added bonus, too, according to Julie, who explains that some of the delegates were meeting for the first time.

“On the trip, business owners from the different Outer Hebridean islands were chatting about how to work together. They want to raise their game and promote themselves as a collective. Now they’re back, they’re picking up the phone to each other. Coming out of COVID, people have just been surviving. This trip has given them a real boost.”

This sentiment is echoed by attendee Kate MacDonald, director at North Uist Distillery, who has been inspired to use island-grown garnishes at their new Island Life gin bar rather than using imported citrus fruits, as well as to collaborate with a local chocolatier on the creation of a gin-infused offer.

"I have been hugely inspired by our visit to Bornholm,” says Kate. “It was a wonderful experience to share alongside other food and drink businesses from the Outer Hebrides. Seeing the creativity, innovation and collaboration between the Bornholm producers has given us all ideas for how to further enhance our food and drink offering within the islands."

Sue Reid, director and secretary of Outer Hebrides Tourism (and owner of Broad Bay Guest House), concurs. “We cannot wait to see what comes from this inspiration and look forward to seeing the ideas come to life. Ideas could include: sheep milk ice cream, community fruit and veg growing and a micro brewery! Above all, we now have a growing network of food and drink businesses that can support and help each other through collaboration and friendship.”

A man and woman enjoying a meal at the Captain's Galley seafood restaurant, Scrabster, Caithness, Highlands of Scotland

The highlight of the trip

Pressed to share a trip highlight, Julie Sloan cites the group’s visit to a pioneering new ‘Madkulturhus’, which, translated literally, means Food Culture House. The first of its kind in Denmark, this farm and building allows food and drink businesses of all types and at all stages to develop ideas in a supportive environment. It’s also a tourist and educational experience that, according to its website, aims to preserve and expand the Bornholm food universe ‘through play, experiments and building and gathering experience and knowledge’.

“It was phenomenal,” enthuses Julie. “If you run a business and you want to grow something, you get a bit of the field and advice on the soil. You can use the kitchen to develop recipes, and people are there to advise you at every step. There’s time to develop your ideas and room to make mistakes. There’s a real mix of people at every business stage; it was really special.”

Eat Drink Hebrides’ relationship with Bornholm isn’t over now the trip has taken place. The businesses that took part are looking forward to welcoming their Bornholm counterparts to the Outer Hebrides during a reciprocal visit planned for spring 2023. Given all the ideas generated on the trip, they are bound to have plenty to show their Danish visitors.

Improving island supply chains

Thanks to the grant funding from HIE, Eat Drink Hebrides has also been able to commission a report on supply chain improvement opportunities. Food and drink consultancy Rural Matters was commissioned to identify current supply chain issues as well as to explore the potential for increasing local markets, access to off-island and new markets and to make recommendations around food and drink sector ownership and collaboration.

As Julie explains, supply chains are a challenge for all Hebridean businesses, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 and Brexit.

“The funding from HIE has allowed us to employ a consultant with experience in improving supply chains in the Highlands and Islands. He has spoken to businesses across the spectrum, from producers to retailers, to understand where we need to get to with supply chains for the community here to really thrive, in a sustainable way. Because of where we’re situated - literally being at the end of the line - we’re more challenged than most in this regard. At some points over the last couple of years, the supply chains both to and from the islands have been horrific. We had fish and other fresh exports rotting on the pier ends, and other businesses unable to get the materials they needed to produce their wares.”

The resulting report supports Our Atlantic Larder 2021-2030, a food and drink plan that was developed as a roadmap to achieving the vision of food and drink from the Outer Hebrides being recognised as high quality, artisan, and rich in heritage and culture. The report contains ten recommendations which include the establishment of a collective voice to engage with Calmac around ferry service improvements and the exploration of how to provide better access to shared pallet opportunities, storage facilities and frequency of service delivery to all producers.

It’s clear that the regional food group funding has allowed Eat Drink Hebrides to move closer to the vision set out in Our Atlantic Larder 2021-2030 and, at the same time, promoted increased collaboration between all the member food tourism businesses - which never fails to spark ideas and innovation.

Eat Drink Hebrides is one of six regional food groups to receive funding from HIE to support their member businesses to recover from COVID. You can read more about regional food groups in the summer 2021 edition of our Focus magazine.

Follow Eat Drink Hebrides on Facebook or Instagram, or visit their website to find out more.

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