Food system faces ‘challenge’ to recover from pandemic

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The recovery plan is to help the food sector restart
The recovery plan is to help the food sector restart

Related tags: coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the ‘strength’ and ‘fragility’ of the food supply chain, according to the Food and Drink Sector Council (FDSC), which has launched a COVID-19 Recovery Plan for the industry.

A report from the formal industry-led partnership with Government stated that the COVID-19 lockdown, saw the UK food system face its biggest challenge since 1945 – to keep the nation fed.

And it highlighted that the economic impact of the disease across the food chain had “varied enormously”​ as many retailers’, farmers’, producers’ and manufacturers’ increased sales, while foodservice and hospitality saw “sales evaporate”.

Early in the crisis the food industry united in efforts​ to ensure essential services were maintained to keep consumers fed.

Panic buying sparked by the pandemic prompted food manufacturer​s to boost production by up to 50%.

Lessons

The report suggested there was an opportunity to build on the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis through the National Food Strategy to make the food system more resilient, cleaner, greener and healthier.

Terry Jones, industry co-chair of the FDSC and director general of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the strength of the UK food chain, and it has shown just how well industry and government can work together. However, it has also laid bare the fragility of our food system and reminded us all of its importance. 

“Despite the challenges, everyone came together to ensure food supplies were maintained, shelves stacked and our most vulnerable people protected. This report clearly outlines what needs to be done to ensure the entire sector can restart successfully and build a greener, healthier food system for all.”

Collaboration

Ian Wright CBE, industry co-chair of the FDSC and chief executive of the Food & Drink Federation, said that collaboration had been a key theme during this time. 

The FDSC’s recovery report is a clear and comprehensive plan that ensures we can do just that, while helping to build a sustainable food system for the future,” ​he said. 

Gavin Darby, former CEO of Premier Foods and industry lead on the FDSC COVID-19 Recovery Group said that it was widely acknowledged that the food industry responded to the crisis quickly and effectively.  

“These Sector Council recommendations maintain the momentum,”​ he said. 

The FDSC Working Group was co-chaired by Gavin Darby and Judith Batchelar, who is also director of Sainsbury’s brand, Sainsbury’s. Representatives from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, NFU, FDF, Federation of Wholesale Distributors, UKHospitality and firms including Volac, Associated British Foods, J Sainsbury and Coca-Cola European Partners also participated. 

  

Six keys for rebooting the food supply chain

 

1.                   A phased, coordinated and flexible restart plan

2.                   The extension and tapering of industry support schemes

3.                   A united effort to support the industry’s worst-hit sectors

4.                   Protecting the health of food industry employees and ensuring reliable availability of labour

5.                   Protecting the UK’s supply chain integrity and competitive position

6.                   And accelerating plans to increase UK exports

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