A month after the coronavirus lockdown, what is the impact on the food industry?

Coronavirus and the supply chain one month after lockdown

By Nic Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Coronavirus has cast a dark shadow over the whole food and drink supply chain
Coronavirus has cast a dark shadow over the whole food and drink supply chain

Related tags: Meat & Seafood, Supply chain, Ingredients & nutrition, Technology & Automation, Dairy

The coronavirus pandemic prompted the Government to initiate a closure of pubs and restaurants on 20 March and announce a lockdown of the public's movements on 23 March.

At the point of lockdown, the food supply chain was already creaking under the strain of panic buying and the shutdown of the foodservice sector. Now, eateries are attempting to implement takeaway services and their suppliers are trying to shift to supplying retailers as demand soars in that sector.

In this William Reed podcast, experts from four key William Reed titles, Food Manufacture​, The Grocer​, Morning Advertiser​ (MA) and MCA Insight​, chart the pandemic's impact on the industry. They address how the industry has coped and the current pressures it is now facing.

Food Manufacture​ editor Rod Addy outlines the struggles meat and dairy processors have faced since foodservice businesses pulled the shutters down.

Personal protective equipment, social distancing

He also outlines pressures the industry is facing with regard to lack of personal protective equipment, hard to manage social distancing guidelines and poor staff availability for picking and processing produce.

The farmers and manufacturers have not received as much coverage in the national press as the retail, foodservice and hospitality sectors because consumers take the industry for granted, said Addy.

In addition, food manufacturers suffer from a negative image, with few shoppers keen to think about the process by which food ends up on their plates, he said.

Fresh produce, meat and dairy

Turning to fresh produce, meat and dairy farmers, Addy said: "If you take fresh produce first of all, the challenge is finding labour to pick the fresh produce."​ Many produce pickers had historically been migrant workers from Eastern Europe on relatively low incomes. But restrictions imposed on such non-UK nationals post-Brexit had discouraged such people from living and working in the UK.

"Now you've got problems of people being sick, people having to self isolate, which potentially reduces that workforce even further,"​ said Addy. "We've heard about people flying workers in from Poland, we've also heard about the initiative with regard to the Land Army within the UK to find UK domestic workers who can pick up the slack and go into the fields and pick vegetables. There are signs that positive progress is being made.

"On dairy and meat, it's been hit very hard by the loss of foodservice, so all the restaurants that closed down, all the cafes that closed down. Those outlets stocked particularly premium meat and also a lot of dairy, particularly milk if you look at cafes. All of that business has dropped away and consequently you're looking at a situation where a lot of dairy farmers are being forced into a position of disposing milk on farm because they are producing stuff that is not going to be used.

Carcase balance

"For meat you're seeing a carcase balance issue. You're seeing a lot of premium cuts that would have gone into the restaurant sector now not having a home. Consumers don't seem to want to buy those things because they command higher price points, so consumers are going for a lot of cheaper cuts of meat."

As a consequence of the loss of foodservice business, many suppliers could go under, said Addy.

Keep listening to hear news editor of The Grocer​ Ronan Hegarty break down how grocery retailers have been coping with measures such as social distancing in stores. After that, editor of MCA Insight James Halliwell and MA editor Ed Bedington discuss how COVID-19 has hit the restaurant and pub trades and how they are fighting back.

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