BREXIT is a poisoned well we have no choice but to drink from. Amid spiralling costs, social media posts from small local companies announcing they are shutting down are now depressingly frequent.

When I saw one from the well-known Edinburgh restaurateur Carina Contini saying she had “received notification that yet another of our #artisan #familybusiness is closing” and urging businesses to get in touch “if you have a product you feel may be of interest #community #Scotland #heritage,” adding “don’t let the big boys win,” I was impressed by her determined display of solidarity.

“The product we were buying from that supplier was a gluten-free cracker,” she told me. “The cost of doing business is now starting to have a significant impact on particularly our smaller producers and our smaller growers. It’s a worry because we’ll end up being in a very different food environment.”

It is hard not to wince at the bill after a meal out these days but businesses are struggling, with the spiralling costs of Brexit, the price of energy, a one-sided VAT burden and high business rates adding yet more weight in challenging times.

There are three Contini restaurants in Edinburgh: Contini Cannonball; the Scottish Cafe and Restaurant, which focus on outstanding Scottish cuisine; and Contini George Street which dishes up fine Italian food. Contini said: “We have Italian team in our kitchen in George Street and that skill set, that knowledge is really vital because they’re using ingredients somebody who hasn’t been born or trained in Italy wouldn’t understand.

“We import these amazing ingredients every week from Italy. That now takes an extra day in order to have the pallets inspected and checked at customs. We need to have phyto-sanitary certificates – who would have known what that even was 10 years ago?

“Victor, my husband, knows the product code for all the different types of tomatoes. Whether it’s a San Marzano, or a Pachino, or a Cuore di Bue, there’s a different product code that sits with every case of tomatoes. There are additional costs, paperwork, time wasted. It’s a disaster. It is a nightmare. I can’t see any value in Brexit.”

Like the Contini restaurants, the team behind the Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord in Easter Ross is working hard with other local businesses for a better chance of withstanding the crushing economic circumstances pushed on to us by Brexit.

The National: Jeni Iannetta from Bad Girl Bakery in Muir Of Ord. Picture: Matthias Kremer

Co-owner Douglas Hardie says: “To be blunt about Brexit, it’s hit staffing, it’s hit all our ingredient costs. We monitored the price of butter from 2016 onwards. It just kept doubling. Brexit has massively increased the cost of doing business at every level. The cost of employment, the availability of employment. There are no upsides.”

Hardie and Jeni Iannetta have diversified into a number of projects – agility is needed to survive these tough times. Both own the Bad Girl Bakery, while Iannetta runs the Good Girl Greengrocer and the Highland Cake Collaboration, and Hardie the Highland Food and Drink Trail, with the bakery in Muir of Ord and outlets in the Victorian Food Hall, Inverness.

Coming out of the Covid pandemic, they quickly found there was strength in the business community supporting each other.

Hardie said: “When the Highland Food and Drink Trail began, businesses started to realise that if you had two food trucks instead of one, you got more than twice the number of people coming. If you had three food trucks, you got many more, and the realisation came that they weren’t actually competing with each other.”

Iannetta nods in agreement, “I had this kind of dawning realisation that instead of being frightened by competition, actually what you do is embrace it because the more an area becomes known for good cake, the more footfall there is,” she explains.

“The Highland Cake Collaboration is just a little voluntary group at the moment, but it’s got something like 70 members who are producing cake on a small scale.”

Large multinational coffee chains lead to generic town centres, as well as funnelling revenue out of communities. Hardie and Iannetta have praise for Highland Council, which is working to support the vibrant and growing community of “small, independent, very recognisably Highland businesses,” which helps keep money in the local economy.

I am struck by how powerfully Contini, Iannetta and Hardie speak about the importance of clear provenance and buying from local producers. Whether that be in terms of the ingredients or the place the product is made, authenticity and food stories are key.

“Making links between the product you’re eating and the people who are making it is incredibly important. It’s people’s livelihoods to make that thing you’re eating,” Ianetta says.

“When people are buying, they want to hear about the background story, to feel the inherent passion that comes with that. People do support local when they can but we absolutely know that they can’t always.”

I am struck by the spirit of solidarity shown by these successful entrepreneurs. Contini’s final point to me is succinctly made – and is echoed by Iannetta and Hardie: “Remember, behind the choices are people.”

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign