Back in September we virtually met with 20 food and drink industry leaders to discuss the current state of the industry and what, they feel, the future would bring for food and drink manufacturing. 

We collected valuable insight from three virtual roundtables in partnership with the Food & Drink Federation and created the industry’s first food and drink manufacturing Sentiment of the Sector report. 

Download the full Sentiment of the Sector report here.

Three things we learned from conducting the Food and Drink Industry Report 

Innovations brought on by COVID-19

A key theme mentioned throughout all of the roundtable discussions was the need for businesses to develop their business model as a result of the effects of COVID-19. The food and drink industry was affected massively by the virus outbreak (both negatively and positively), and many firms felt the need to change the way they operated as consumer behaviour changed.

Many began offering online services that brought their products straight to the consumer, as shops either streamlined their stock or demand fell as consumers focussed their buying decisions on strictly essential products. Offering a totally online service, that delivers products straight to the consumer, proved to be the way to go for a lot of businesses, sidestepping somewhat the fall in demand for certain products that couldn’t be/wasn’t being met in stores.

85% of businesses in the discussions said they had made changes to their shift patterns.

Another key innovation was the need to overhaul shift patterns to comply with new COVID guidelines. Many of the businesses present in the roundtables were nationally supplying brands, with 100s of employees that previously worked together simultaneously. The need to limit contact, whilst also keeping up with demand, meant that hours were spent devising new shift patterns; introducing overnight working teams; and ensuring that employees could still work safely.

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Lack of confidence in Brexit handling but confidence in the resilience of the sector

Another key finding from the roundtables was an uncertainty into how Brexit would play out for UK businesses, but ultimately a feeling of positivity that the Food & Drinks Industry is resilient and able to weather major storms.

A huge part of these concerns came from the ending of free movement of labour within the EU, with a quarter of Food & Drink Industry businesses utilising labour from EU countries. The government’s plans to classify these workers and how they can work in the UK has therefore become a major concern for businesses moving forward. In a worst case scenario, more than 100,000 roles may be left unfilled by this, leaving major gaps to fulfill that could cause serious disruption to the UK’s food supply chain. 

However, many of the speakers at the roundtable spoke of their positivity and confidence in the Food and Drinks Sector and how it has overcome many adversities in the past. The consensus appeared to be that the government’s handling of Brexit – most notably their lack of clarity as to how Brexit would affect businesses – was severely lacking and needed to change quickly. However, they also highlighted the sheer will of the industry to persevere and survive, and pointed to that being a major factor in how the industry would find a way to make it work.

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Consumer demand for sustainability

Another thing that became clear throughout the discussions was the sheer demand for sustainability from customers. Many of the participants spoke of their knowledge that consumers wanted to buy from a more eco-friendly business, and this sentiment goes right through the supply chain: from customers, to consumers, to suppliers.

Individuals are not satisfied with the current actions of businesses, with 93.5% of consumers agreeing that it is the responsibility of businesses to act sustainably, but 4 in 5 feel that not enough is being done to address issues around sustainability and climate change (GlobalData “Sustainability in UK Retail, 2019).

This has caused a massive shift in approach in recent times, as businesses realign themselves as more sustainable enterprises. Compounding this, is the government’s pledge to have the UK become a Net-Zero carbon country by 2050, to help fight climate change.

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For an insightful look into the myriad of points discussed in the roundtables, download the full Sentiment of the Sector Report here.