The Scottish Food Trade Association (formerly known as The Scottish Provision Trade Association) was founded in 1889. Sadly all the minute books and other records prior to 1954 have been lost so consequently all the information about the activities of the Association prior to this date have been gathered from the two principal periodicals of the time – “The Grocer” and the “Scottish Trader” (now “Scottish Grocer”).
The core principle behind the formation of the Association was to secure, develop and promote the produce trade in Scotland. Even in those early days there were remarkable changes taking place in the trade, for example, the scientific and technical advances on food processing and preservation, the dramatic growth in canned goods and of course difficult times at the end of the 1870’s with the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank.
Whilst provisions had been imported for centuries, the scale of imports and the potential for perishable goods like butter and cheese from outside Europe had dramatically increased following the development and construction of the first refrigerated ship in the late 1870’s. Produce merchants such as Andrew Clement and Sons and Archibald Fleming & Co took full advantage of this and began importing large quantities of cheeses from North America and further afield. Not everyone approved of this development. Once again this sudden and rapid growth of imports created its own challenges. The Association was to play a significant role in helping resolve the many issues that surrounded shipments to Glasgow. In 1910 The Scottish Provision Trade Association surrendered it’s interest in the egg sector to the newly formed Scottish Egg Trade Association. Labour troubles intensified in 1911 typified by the dock labourers’ strike which created considerable difficulties at the ports and was accompanied, in August of the same year, by the paralysis of the entire transport network in the Midlands and the North of England owing to a rail strike. The inevitable wage increases that resulted from the settlement of these disputes would ultimately lead to more price rises to consumers. Cost pressures on employers were to be further fuelled with the introduction of the new National Insurance Act.
The Association’s “brief” was not to look after the interests of one particular trade, but to cater for the needs of importers and the wholesale provision business as a whole. There were already a number of individual Trade societies in the city, such as the Glasgow Ham Curing and Wholesale Provision Trade Society launched in 1863 and the Glasgow Grocers Association whose activities concerned such matters as shop hours, customer credit and the serious effect the Co-Operative Societies with their bargain basement prices and quarterly dividends was having on private business. Despite the very long hours most of their members worked (some things never change!), their Association and it’s branches held regular social gatherings, “soirees” and an Annual Festival. The energy of the committee in pursuing such a range of issues during the first eighteen months of the Association’s existence, too numerous to cover in this short overview, won the admiration of the members and attracted many new recruits. So great were the changes in the industry during the last quarter of the century that in 1895 when grocers in Glasgow looked around them, they could barely recognise that this was the same business they had served their apprenticeship in.
The Act is often regarded as one of the foundations of modern social welfare and resulted from a growing change in public attitudes that distressed the Provision Trade who suspected that the root of their difficulties lay in ‘the enormous development of the Co-Operative stores supported by socialist thinkers who vilified traders and middlemen’. Up went the cry for direct connection between producer and consumer at the Annual Dinner. The SPTA continued to serve and support all aspects of the trade throughout the 1914-1918 war, the general strike of 1926, the 1939-1945 War and, possibly the most difficult part from a trade perspective, when rationing and controls were progressively dismantled between May 1954 and October 1956 when the market for bacon and ham was finally freed. The SPTA (SFTA) have been blessed with many worthy Presidents some of whom have served as Chairman of the United Kingdom Provision Trade Federation now known as the Provision Trade Federation. As other Associations and Societies come and go, the SFTA continues to be one of the principal networking organisations in the Scottish food industry, thanks in no small part to it’s proud history and those who have helped contribute to it.
The Association has an archive in the Mitchell Library. If you would like to view this please give at least two hours notice and give yourself plenty of time to view the information as these cannot be borrowed. Many people have enjoyed looking back at how our trade was in days gone by – try buying a shop for £20 today(!)