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The food industry in times of Corona: Guest article by Chris Sanderson

9 Jun 2020

Chris Sanderson holding a keynote during Anuga 2019

Chris Sanderson is the co-founder of The Future Laboratory, a strategic foresight consultancy based in London. Last year, Sanderson held an exciting keynote on the theme "Future of Food" in the scope of the European Press Conference of Anuga. In 2019, the special event Anuga Horizon 2050 also offered interesting insights into the future of food at the world's largest trade fair for food and beverages. In the course of the event visionaries, innovators, initiatives and start-ups from a wide range of industries presented the future of the food industry and discussed new technologies and trends in the food industry. Since such a lecture is not possible this year, the futurologist is now making a guest comment.

There has been a lot of movement in the food industry over the past weeks and months: Supply chains had to be adapted to accommodate the increases in demand. Restaurant owners had to close their establishments, the desire for online offers grew constantly. Read here how the persons concerned are dealing with these circumstances and which changes and potential the Corona crisis brings with it according to Chris Sanderson.

This is how creative the food trade is

We've been very impressed by the resourcefulness of both food manufacturers and the food retail in creating totally new operational structures, production and supply chains as well as logistic processes for the food trade. Suppliers to cafes and restaurants set up new DTC supply chains within a matter of days whereas previously this would have been seen as an insurmountable challenge before Corona. Websites were created from scratch overnight and completely new food hubs emerged. Many of us hope this new grass roots, community-driven approach to sourcing and buying food will continue long after other purchasing and consumption habits return.

Please find below a small selection of the most creative ideas of the food industry:

  • Media Kitchens: Delivery platforms are working with media companies and social apps to launch virtual restaurants that combine food with entertainment.

  • Discovery Grocers: From curated shopping baskets to SMS advisers: Online grocers are putting personalisation at the heart of their offering.

  • Virtual Happy Hours: Amid Covid-19 and self-isolation, digital tools combined with delivery services are reframing drinking at home as a positive, social activity.

Food delivery services on course for success

Man delivering food on an e-scooter

At all levels of the food industry, the Corona virus has accelerated the growth of home entertainment and dining to even beyond the extent we had already predicted.

Irregular footfall in stores and dramatic drops in covers at restaurants and fast food outlets are driving food operators to act innovatively fast. For example, the Seattle-based Canlis restaurant in the US State of Washington, redesigned its entire fine dining business model: Whereas previously the establishment was exclusively known for its haute cuisine, now the offer includes breakfast bagels, a burger drive-in and a food delivery service.

What's more, at a global level meal delivery platforms such as Deliveroo, UberEats and Glovo rolled out no-contact food deliveries and cashless payment systems. In India, in addition to providing hygiene advice for its restaurant partners, Swiggy launched an informative campaign addressing its end customers on the safe ordering of meals in order to improve the working conditions of its delivery fleet.

As digital services become the new store fronts for restaurants and food sellers, new possibilities for the development of novel offers surrounding the experience of celebrated dining are emerging. In China, for instance, chefs used the closure of their kitchens as an opportunity to provide live-stream cookery tutorials for those in self-isolation, offering both useful, educational and yet entertaining content.

And food online delivery services have also in the meantime become part of the everyday routine of many people. Most of the large supermarket chains have been offering this service for some time already. An offer, which is of course gladly welcomed.

It can therefore be observed: The further development of the delivery and food service formats will lead to a healthier and safer food offer, whereby the entertainment aspect of eating will take on an increasingly more important role.

Incidentally, the E-Grocery Congress at Anuga 2019 also addressed the theme food online delivery. In the scope of this format many experts granted an insight into the food trade 2.0.

Is the Corona crisis just the start for the food industry?

COVID-19 is probably just the first in a wave of pandemics that we will experience in the coming decade. If developments such as the globalisation, over-industrialisation of our food chain and the growth of mono-culture plant resources continue unabated, similar outbreaks of infectious diseases will become the norm in future, not the exception to the rule.

Hopefully a positive impact of COVID-19 will be that it acts as a wake-up call for the food industry, creating a stronger awareness for the real costs of a food provision that places the emphasis on quantity rather than quality across the entire food supply chain.

Long live local: Urban farming

Man inside green house

There is an opportunity for change at a grassroots level to start reshaping the industry. We’re realising the power of local supply chains and the food industry as a whole should take the latest developments as an opportunity for the industry to refocus on more sustainable practices that support communities at a more local level.

Urban farming is one area that could finally start to take off: For example Dan Barber, a chef who has championed the "farm-to-table" movement, is urging cooks around the world to plant gardens to provide restaurants with local sources of food. This is called the Kitchen Farming Project.

Less food waste through the Corona crisis?

The consumers’ relationship to food has been transformed virtually overnight. The consumers are turning to food for comfort and well-being, and as a means of escape from everyday life or source of entertainment. But even more important than that, it has raised most people's awareness for the real value of the food that we prepare, serve and share. Hence, we are under the impression that there has been less food waste during the pandemic than beforehand. We expect that the future consumers will think much more carefully about what they eat and reflect upon how they value food for its nourishing properties – nutritionally, socially and spiritually.

The future of the food industry will no doubt also be a key theme at the coming Anuga. Food technologists, manufacturers and distributors already discussed the themes sustainability, digitalism, innovations and new foods last year in the scope of the Innovation Food Conference .

The Future Laboratory is one of the world’s most renowned futures consultancies. With a unique blend of trend forecasting, consumer insight, foresight, brand strategy and innovation, they inspire and future-proof organisations.