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Food Business

How is COVID-19 changing the food industry?

In order to understand food system consolidation and resilience, we’ll be monitoring COVID-19’s impact on the structure and economics of the food industry, identifying where old business models are forced to expire and where innovation is shaping new alternatives. We’ll also be looking at where companies are prioritising food that is healthy and affordable, and where private sector solutions to food access problems are ensuring that vulnerable groups receive the food they need. In the long-term, will the changes we see in this sector hinder or accelerate progress towards a food system that is healthy and sustainable for human and planetary health?

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Introduction: food businesses under COVID-19

By Will Nicholson

Examining shifts in food businesses will allow us to track how COVID-19 is changing the food on offer, and how the food industry is tackling these challenges. Focusing on the retail, catering, restaurant and wholesale sectors, we’ll be looking at innovations and new ways of working developed by the private sector to help put food on our tables. We will be looking at how these sectors respond to the challenges COVID-19 presents in terms of food availability, accessibility and affordability, especially concerning the needs of clinically and economically vulnerable groups. As the situation progresses, we’ll aim to understand how these responses provide insight into what a future food system, one that better serves the needs of society’s most vulnerable, might look like.

How has COVID-19 changed the way businesses in these sectors are operating?

Supermarkets

Supermarkets saw unprecedented demand throughout March (20.6% increase in sales according to Kantar Worldpanel), resulting in shortages in availability of certain product lines, including both food staples and household goods. At the same time, self-isolation guidance and the country-wide lockdown has altered both the accessibility and, with some people finding themselves out of work, the affordability of food for significant numbers. The main responses from the industry so far can be summarised as follows:

The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) provides a summary of these developments for both in-store and online services here.

Caterers, restaurants, wholesalers

Hit hard and abruptly by both initial government advice on social distancing and then forced closures on 20th March, the industry is facing an exceptionally challenging time. Many businesses are redirecting food to reach new customers and working to stay operational during the lockdown. Key developments include:

Again, IGD provides a good summary of these developments here.

We will be tracking how the industry continues to respond, both positively and negatively, including input directly from the industry and commentary from a range of experts.