15 April 2020, 13:23 PM
  • Britain has been fertile ground for SMEs in the food industry over the past few years. As the nation has become increasingly obsessed with good quality, healthier, local food we have seen the number of artisan and small food businesses rocket. They wouldn’t – and couldn’t – have been prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic that is now sweeping the world, says Ava Neilson
5 things to consider to help weather the Covid-19 storm

The coronavirus has changed the way that all businesses are having to work, as demands change, supplies fluctuate and consumer behaviour changes. And independent fine food retailers are no different. As SMEs, small changes in business can make huge differences, and often little actions here and there can make the difference between sinking and swimming. Whether you own an artisan brewery, fine dining restaurant or are an organic produce retailer, there is no doubt that the coronavirus is having a huge impact on your business.

Changing business practices
The hospitality industry is one of the first industries to have been directly affected by the coronavirus as restaurants and bars were completely shut down. This has meant problems for the food retailers who sell to them. Some food retailers and restaurants have, however, managed to stay open through organising deliveries and food drop-offs or staying open to allow their customers to come in and buy food.

Those food retailers that are able to stay open, have had to change their business practices both in terms of their staff and customers. Many businesses are encouraging as many staff as possible to work from home, and government guidelines mean that they need to add other measures such as socially distant shopping, the supply of hand sanitiser for customers, the wiping down of trolleys and baskets, and the use of coctactless payments.

Do your bit as a business
We are, of course, hearing horror stories about how certain businesses are failing their staff and customers when it comes to keeping them safe amid the COVID crisis. We are also, however, seeing hundreds and thousands of businesses – especially SMEs – supporting their local communities and doing what they can to help.

Some restaurants are offering food deliveries or donating to food banks, some are offering their services to key workers, or some are adapting to new services - some alcohol producers have switched from making gin to hand sanitiser, and S J Containers who often supply bespoke converted shipping containers to the food industry are supplying storage for those who need it as well as testing centres and isolation wards for the NHS, for example.

Understand supply and demand
For those food retailers who are able to stay open, we are also seeing massive fluctuations in the supply and demand for food. Regardless of the kind of food that you are selling, you will certainly have some uncertainty around both how the demand for your food is going to be over the next few weeks – as well as how the supply of ingredients or foodstuffs will be.

With panic buying and people looking to visit food outlets less frequently, there is a chance that everyone else will be stockpiling. The prospect of being at home without their favourite wine or coffee could lead to high demand, meanwhile, farmers and food suppliers are also finding it challenging to get the supply and demand balance right. Being able to deal with these fluctuations as strategically as possible is vital to keeping customers satisfied and businesses – whatever the size – afloat.

Boost hygiene levels
Having excellent hygiene standards has always been essential for anyone who is working in the food industry, but this has never been more critical now. In actual fact, your hygiene standards shouldn’t be very different from how they always have been. What has become more important for food businesses, however, is the communication of this with customers. Customers are now increasingly wanting to be sure that strict hygiene standards are being met and the most successful businesses are making a point of obviously showing their customers this.

Be flexible and adaptable
One of the bonuses of having an SME is that you are able to change and adapt more quickly than larger businesses. In the times of COVID-19, this is essential. It is something that was quickly thrust upon us and something that businesses have had to react quickly to. The businesses that are able to change the way that they do business, who they do business with, and what they do – and engage and communicate this with their customers are the ones that will come out of this stronger.

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