‘Building Back Better’ in the Food and Drink Sector

By Victoria Murphy, Account Manager

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt substantially across the food supply chain. Retailers have seen dramatic changes in the way consumers are shopping, eating out-of-home has been shut down and will feel very different upon reopening in the months to come, and food inequality has risen significantly as households feel the pressure to feed their families during lockdown.

Whilst the current challenges faced by the industry are vast, every part of the food supply chain now faces the same two goals:

  1. Find a sustainable operating framework with Government support
  2. Mitigate against additional burdens that were already arising pre-COVID

The Challenge of Regulation

Throughout this crisis, NGOs have shone a spotlight on the impact of COVID-19 on existing challenges such as obesity and supply chain resilience, with some urging the Government to champion more local produce and to rethink the food system. And yet, policy makers are more than aware that businesses will struggle to face the burden of additional regulation during what will continue to be a time of significant operational change and economic hardship for many. The Government ultimately needs as many businesses as possible to survive the blow dealt by COVID-19 to the operating of the economy.

So, whilst regulatory challenges are not going away in the context of mounting activist and consumer pressure, the Government is firmly in listening mode.

Food and drink businesses must take this window of opportunity to advocate for a sustainable framework of support and regulation that allows them to build back their businesses in a way that meets consumer and political expectations with regards to responsible and innovative behaviours.

Planning What’s Next

Looking to the future, the industry should be using this moment in time to consider where COVID-19 leaves its plans to invest in its workforce and supply chain, improve product sustainability, and promote nutrition and wellbeing.

Taking action on these issues will demonstrate that the sector is committed to restarting better and will protect it from opponents that wish to see tighter regulation or different business practice.

And it would also boost the industry’s reputation with consumers.

At FHF, we know from our annual ‘Authenticity Gap’ research – which assesses consumers expectations towards business in contrast to their experiences in practice – that people really want to see business deliver against broader social needs concerning the environment, healthier foods and looking after their workforce. But when we asked who they trusted most to deliver against these issues – the food industry came last. This trend must be reversed.

So, despite the challenges in the months ahead, businesses must use this moment to find a new way of operating that will ultimately help the industry to ‘build back better’ and strengthen its credibility with decision-makers and consumers alike.