What are the opportunities for the food industry in the Covid-19 era?

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on industries and businesses across the globe, not least the food industry.

Never before has the sector faced such demands on their services and provision. The scenes of panic buying in the UK easily eclipsed any Christmas rush previously experienced by any retailer or manufacturer, and the revenues generated are unprecedented.

The result of the increase in consumer demand, with most restaurants and shops now closed, has led to huge recruitment drive by all the main supermarket chains and manufacturers with it deemed critical works during the pandemic. This has not only helped keep stock levels replenished and stores open, but it has also provided an alternative source of employment for thousands of people have found themselves without work or income.

Proactive Response

The speed in which vacancies have been filled and the reaction from the public is a show of how the country has responded so proactively to the grave situation we find ourselves in. As the country clapped for NHS workers on a Thursday night, many were also applauding those who are still working on the front line in our stores and factories. The newfound respect and appreciation for the shop assistants, factory workers, cleaners and delivery drivers is one of the main positives to come out of this situation having been undervalued for years.

The encouraging, proactive reaction by the main supermarket brands has held them up as positive examples to other businesses across the country. From creating designated shopping times for key workers, donating to food bank charities, providing staff with protective screens, and increasing pay,  are just a few examples which demonstrate how fundamental they have been in keeping up morale, alongside their promise to keep ‘feeding the nation’ throughout the crisis. It’s this calm and quick response which has seen panic buying reduce and shoppers on the whole respect the new conditions including one-person trips, 2m distancing, contactless payment and one-way systems implemented in stores.

And it’s not just the big food brands that have responded with vigour to the new situation. Local businesses, from the butcher, to grocery store have introduced delivery services and online shopping to their provision which would have not previously been part of their business strategy. It’s to be expected post-C19, many will continue providing the additional services, with an increasing number of shoppers introduced to the convenience and quality of their products and services.

Health & Safety

At a time when priorities, focus and health is essential, there are questions around what is classed as ‘critical works’ and whether all food and drink manufacturing factories are equal. With places like Mexico stopping production of the Corona Beer as it is deemed a non-essential product, it does raise the question whether confectionery and alcohol production sites in the UK will stay open throughout the outbreak, as concerns around health and safety rises. There are also reports of some food factories experiencing staff walk outs due to lack of PPE which does suggest not all are prioritising the health and well-being of their staff above profits.

Recruitment and Retention

It’s also worth considering the lasting impact this huge recruitment drive could have on the industry. In our previous blog post, Manufacturing the dream job, we looked at the challenges facing the sector in terms of attracting and retaining the best talent. With many people joining the food industry with virtually no previous experience, this does present challenges in terms of training and inductions. However, the skills and experience this new influx of recruits have could benefit the industry immensely and it does highlight the importance of other departments within the business, including HR and Communications. When the dust settles, many will have no intention of remaining in the sector. In part, this will be offset by the loss of the temporary positions created due to the situation, however it also presents the industry an opportunity to engage fresh talent into the sector that could positively contribute to the ongoing positive development of individual businesses and the industry as a whole. Here’s hoping there are opportunities to retain these people before we lose them forever.

The Lasting Legacy

Although looking at the bigger picture post-Covid can seem overwhelming, how food businesses respond now will have a lasting impact on the ongoing success of their business – from both an employee and consumer perspective. We are living in an industry defining moment. It is vital all those who work in the food sector use the lessons, opportunities, relationships and revenues generated throughout this experience to continue to develop a world-leading sector which will play a key role helping economies and societies rebuild and thrive long after the Coronavirus outbreak is under control.

 

Image by Ulrich Dregler from Pixabay

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