07 September 2020, 09:17 AM
  • Covid-19 has exposed “serious weaknesses” in the UK food system, and experts believe it is not yet equipped to deal with the long-term impacts of the pandemic, a new report reveals
Five ways food businesses can rebuild after Covid exposed “serious weaknesses”

From supply chain issues to poor conditions in manufacturing facilities, the coronavirus crisis has highlighted a number of flaws in the UK food system, a new report has found.

The ‘Building Back Better: Fixing the Future of Food’ report, by consultancy Veris Strategies, surveyed industry experts and senior executives at businesses such as Roberts Bakery, Cranswick, Nestlé and Greencore, as well as 100 consumers, to discover where the industry stands, and how it should move forward.

The findings suggest that there is a gap between consumer expectations of the effect the pandemic will have on food and the position the industry is in to deliver change. Of the consumers polled by Veris, 80% felt Covid-19 had affected how they think about and value the food they buy and eat, and nine out of 10 expected change to follow that would lead to healthier, more sustainable and ethical food consumption.

However, confidence about the state of the sector to meet these challenges is low. More than three-quarters of industry experts polled believed that the pandemic had exposed “serious weaknesses”, and 96% agreed that the UK food system is “not yet equipped to deal with the long-term impacts of Covid-19”.

The report proposes five building blocks that the industry can use to rebuild, meet changing consumer expectations and protect against future threats. For instance, the report suggests that food businesses should expand the idea of “sustainability” to include customers’ health. This would go hand-in-hand with the Government’s National Food Strategy to ensure food businesses take a greater role in addressing food inequality and eating well.

Another of the key steps that Veris and the panel proposed was reimagining the social contract between consumers and food businesses. For example, they suggest that the most successful food businesses will look to help disadvantaged people further, possibly by addressing their own labour shortages by being more inclusive and offering career opportunities to the homeless and ex-offenders.

“The message must be – we know you care about your family, you care about your community, you want them to be healthy, and we’re going to help you do that,” says Liz Goodwin, director on food loss and waste at the World Resources Institute and a contributor to the report.

“There is a huge opportunity for food businesses to step up and play a crucial role in improving people’s health and making societies and economies less vulnerable to future pandemics, and there is clear consumer demand for them to take a lead. Nearly one-third of consumers want retailers to do more to promote healthier food choices, and more than one in five want them to help educate people on diet and nutrition,” says Kate Cawley, creative director of Veris Strategies.

Veris’ plan of action also looks into the need for UK food businesses to relocalise, add resilience and responsibility, and to redefine and reimagine how they can cope with the so-called new normal, including an emphasis on direct-to-consumer sales and online retail.

To read the full report, visit veris-strategies.co.uk/inspiration/fixing-the-future-of-food

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