Grocery Aid boss on supporting the industry through the pandemic

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

BArcode Festival returned in 2021 after a year's hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic
BArcode Festival returned in 2021 after a year's hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Speaking at this year’s Barcode Festival – an event set up by Grocery Aid to allow members of the grocery industry to come together, relax and celebrate – chief executive Steve Barnes commented on the impact of COVID-19 on the members of the food and drink industry and the steps taken by the charity to help those most in need.

“Covid-19 has been very traumatic for the nation and traumatic for the trade​,” said Barnes. “We are the largest employer of people in the country and with the millions of colleagues we employ, clearly there has been a number that have needed help.

“We’ve seen an significant increase in applications for support from the charity since COVID began, we’ve spent more than we’ve ever done before , supported more colleagues than we’ve ever done before  and we’re very proud to have done so – and we’re absolutely unbelievably grateful to the trade for enabling us to do that.”

Through the support of the industry, especially during a time in which large scale fundraising events such as the Barcode Festival have been unable to run due to lockdown, Grocery Aid has been able to set up a specific COVID-19 fund designed specifically for families in the industry that are in desperate need.

The charity now supports more than 400 people within the industry a month who have fallen on hard times, a number that has grown exponentially since the time Barnes joined in 2016.

Upward trend

“It’s a significant increase and I think the reason why we’re getting that increase is driven by two things,” ​he explained. “It’s driven by the work we’ve done to raise awareness and companies in the industry have been brilliant at supporting us and raising awareness, but also the massive expansion and breadth of services we provide to support colleagues in need.

“I believe we are the most relevant, modern and accessible benevolent fund operating in any industry in the UK today – I don’t think anyone can hold a candle to what we do and the scale at which we do it. Again, we’re only able to do that because of the support we get from the industry, but we really use every pound invested in us to help as many colleagues effectively as possible.”

Despite the work being done by Grocery Aid to support the industry, Barnes still felt that there was more that could be done to help even more people. In particular, he wished that colleagues reached out to the charity sooner along their journey.

“Often when they discover Grocery Aid it’s when they’re at the end of their tether, particularly financially and we end up sending them into bankruptcy, which is a pretty difficult thing to do,”​ Barnes added.

“But if they had come to us or knew about us 18 months earlier when they had that first blip that caused their income to drop and they started taking out loans that couldn’t really afford, we could have helped them then.”

Industry celebration

The flower in the crown of Grocery Aid’s efforts to support the industry is arguably Barcode Festival, a celebration of the people that keep the nation fed. After taking a hiatus in 2020 due to lockdown restrictions, the event returned in full force in an even bigger venue than before in 2021.

“We created barcode as the first festival in the B2B sector as a unique event in the industry calendar, something very different to attract younger colleagues so they can go on a journey with Grocery Aid throughout their working career,”​ said Barnes.

“I think the proof is in the pudding. We sold this event out – which is twice the size of the previous event – six months before we were due to run it originally July. So there’s demand there.”

With the food and drink industry being one that unusually sociable, the absence of Barcode was felt particularly hard.

“There’s only really one common cause around competing companies can coalesce and that is Grocery Aid, because they all realise the investment they are making to support these events and give their colleagues a great time and have some fun ultimately goes to support colleagues in need,”​ Barnes concluded.

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