Coronavirus, what’s next for food industry jobs and services?

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Coronavirus economic impact offset by food industry initiatives, as demand rockets for processing roles
Coronavirus economic impact offset by food industry initiatives, as demand rockets for processing roles

Related tags coronavirus Training & recruitment Supply chain

The Coronavirus has prompted the food industry to unite in efforts to ensure essential services are maintained to keep consumers fed.

Panic buying​ has sparked demand for jobs and services to strengthen the supply chain. This has created opportunities for those whose careers and businesses are threatened by the Government’s request to avoid bars and restaurants​ as part of the wider economic impact of COVID-19.

Food Manufacture and The Grocer​ are offering a central email contact for HR professionals within businesses engaged in food processing and the wider supply chain to target readers seeking employment. If you need staff ​contact

Meanwhile, the dedicated Food Manufacture​ display advertising team is fielding enquiries from those wanting to advertise services supporting processors. If you want to advertise, call Gnaln.Onhtuna@jeoz.pbz​ 01293 610268.

Fresh produce personnel drive

Amid concerns about the scarcity of workers to process fresh produce, British Summer Fruits announced a major personnel drive. In a statement, the organisation said: "The British berry industry has for many years relied on workers from mainland Europe to provide seasonal labour to pick our crops due to a severe lack of availability of local workers. Last year 98% of harvest staff were from outside the UK. We are now very concerned about securing enough workers to help harvest our vital crops and get fresh fruit and vegetables to the public. 

"To help, in the next few days the berry industry will be mounting a large-scale recruitment campaign to encourage people who are in the UK and looking for work because of the current economic impact of the Coronavirus to come and work on our farms.

"We also need the government to give us clarity on whether workers we have already recruited from overseas can travel to the UK to work. For example, workers hired to pick our fruit from Romania need to be able to travel to the UK. We need to know whether they are going to be able to travel to help us pick our fruit." 

"Finally, in line with our recruitment campaign mentioned above, we want the British Government to work with us to encourage workers who are already resident in the UK and looking for work and may have been employed in sectors such as hospitality to consider seasonal work on our UK berry farms."​ 

‘Key workers’

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) had written to key representatives​ of UK and devolved governments urging them to define food and drink supply chain and manufacturing workers as 'key workers' for the purpose of prioritising available school and childcare places. The Government has now confirmed that they, and food distribution personnel, including drivers, are included in this list​.

The letter was sent to MPs including George Eustice, Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The FDF stressed many production and technical roles within the food and drink supply chain relied on specific skills – workers could not be easily moved either for reasons of geography or ability.

FDF, which represents food and drink manufacturers, published a survey this week, exploring business impacts of Coronavirus with its members, eight out of ten respondents stated that workforce shortages is seen as the primary concern for businesses of all sizes, citing panic buying as a prominent factor in addition.

It was also revealed that a third of respondents said that production uplift of 11 – 25% would be unviable and only 17% would face no issues in meeting the demand.

Meat industry labour

Meat industry trade body the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has already flagged the urgent need for labour​ to cope with unprecedented peaks in demand.

With large numbers of staff working in close quarters, meat processors could be in danger of a complete shutdown should infected employees turn up for work, it said. The BMPA also said it feared large processing operations were vulnerable because Business Interruption Insurance protection did not cover losses or closure related to COVID-19. Government support for business interruptions only related to small businesses potentially compounding the economic impact of coronavirus, it added.

The British Poultry Council​ (BPC) called on the Government to consider measures to cushion the food supply chain from the impact of the Coronavirus.

British Poultry Council, Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said: We urge the Government to recognise the role of those working in the food supply chain and extend the business rate holiday to them. We would also like to see introduction of tax breaks for parts of the supply chain that may face financial distress.

Driver shortages

Elizabeth de Long, Freight Transport Association policy director, called for Government contingency plans to address sickness-induced driver shortages and lack of compliance testing resource to ensure operators continue to operate legally and effectively. 

“There are still areas of ongoing regulation of our industry which require clarification, to ensure that businesses can continue to function efficiently and keep supplies moving,"​ said de Long. "It is clear that we are facing unprecedented times, and additional financial support may be required for many businesses, particularly those that supply the tourism or hospitality sectors, in the very near future if the logistics sector is to survive.”

European trading body FoodDrinkEurope released a statement calling on the European Commission to work with Member States to monitor the potential lack of workers (including seasonal workers) and the knock-on impact on production and to prepare contingency plans. The food supply chain should be regarded as an essential sector in all EU Member States. The request was one of a range of proposals aimed at boosting the supply chain.

Many other online sites and all the top retailers are seeking delivery drivers and store staff.

Supermarket chain Morrisons announced measures on 13 March designed to help small suppliers with cashflow. Morrisons has already revealed that it will be recruiting for 3,500 new jobs to cope with the increased demand for home deliveries, comprising 2,500 pickers and drivers and 1,000 distribution centre staff.

Asda confirmed it would be paying its small suppliers immediately to help keep their businesses operating.

Meanwhile, Convenience retailer, the Co-op, has announced plans to create 5,000 store-based roles in a bid to provide temporary employment for hospitality workers who have lost their jobs and to increase support for local communities, amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Frozen food ‘dating’ service

The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) has set-up a ‘dating’ service to match food manufacturers that specialise in supplying the hospitality sector with grocery retailers who are experiencing a huge surge in demand. 

The Frozen Food Platform​ is a response to the crisis in the out-of-home market, which has seen trade collapse after the Government advised on 16 March that people avoid pubs and restaurants for the foreseeable future. 

Richard Harrow, chief executive of the BFFF, said: “As the Government’s advice to avoid pubs and restaurants starts to take effect, it’s clear that consumers habits are changing at a rapid pace.”

“In out-of-home consumers look like they will just disappear leaving many small operators in dire straits. In turn suppliers into this market face a massive downturn in trade just before the busy Mother’s Day weekend. 

“So, we are trying to match these manufacturing members with grocery retailers who are experiencing a surge in demand that’s reached levels normally only seen during the peak Christmas trading period. Whilst it may drop back it is clear that food normally consumed out of home will switch to increased home consumption.”

Frozen scampi supplier Whitby Seafood has already announced it aimed to double production capacity to keep pace with demand.

Distribution, warehousing, wholesale

The wider food supply chain is gearing up for demand​ as trading levels soar. Food-to-go firm Adelie Foods was offering its distribution network and warehousing facilities to retail businesses struggling with capacity during the COVID-19 crisis. Five depots and more than 300 vehicles will be available to businesses who require additional support.

Meanwhile, fresh food wholesaler and distributor Bidfresh has added direct-to-consumer home delivery services from its depots around the UK in response to the national measure introduced to address the coronavirus outbreak. The public will be able to order meat, fish and seafood, fruit and veg, dairy and a range of other products. The free delivery service will operate in selected postcodes around the depots, and will run alongside Bidfresh’s established business with chef and caterers.

Jane Aukim, marketing manager of Bidfresh said she hoped the move would address rapidly falling demand from foodservice outlets. “We are continuing to take orders from customers in the foodservice sector, but the current situation means many of them need less produce or are closing altogether, resulting in cancelled orders.

“At the same time, there’s clearly a need for consumers to be able to access fresh food. Offering home delivery alongside our established business will hopefully ensure that as much of the food as possible in our supply chain is being used.”


The Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) confirmed auction marts were open for business for the procurement of livestock for slaughter. Latest updates and guidance can be accessed by here.

Food Innovation Wales has opened helplines in each of its geographic areas to support Welsh food and drink manufacturers. Companies could contact the helplines for advice and support with food safety, technical issues or guidance on supply chain continuity (for example, raw material supplies), said the organisation. 

Food Innovation Wales is backed by the Welsh Government and is based at three food centres across Wales. The team of industry experts can help manufacturers of all sizes navigate their way through a range of complex technical and commercial issues. 

Professor David Lloyd, Food Innovation Wales, said: “This is a challenging time for food and drink manufacturers in Wales with increasing demands on factories, the workforce and supply chain. Food Innovation Wales, with our technical and commercial expertise, are on hand to provide a range of support and guidance.”

With the spread of COVID-19 hitting the UK restaurant and takeaway sector hard, Just Eat​ launched an emergency support package of more than £10m on 19 March for its independent restaurant partners.

Related topics People & Skills COVID-19

Related news

Show more

1 comment

Essential food chain

Posted by Ani George,

I work at a Smokehouse for salmon. My boss said my job is essential since it is the food chain. Is this true?

Report abuse

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast