How lockdown changed the food and drink sector for life

09 August 2021, 07:01 AM
  • Tanny Gill of wholesaler Clarks Speciality Foods reflects on how the industry adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic, and which changes are here to stay post-pandemic
How lockdown changed the food and drink sector for life

When the lockdown started, it almost felt like a real life curfew. We felt fear, anxiety, unanswered questions, the worry of bills, and most importantly the safety of our children and loved ones, and the questions kept coming and coming…

Lockdown almost forced mankind to go cold turkey from the fast-paced material and social media lives we lived. Looking back on what we all did, I can see that we got closer to ourselves and our families, and most importantly we got closer to food. We cooked more and ate more new and different things.

I am sure we all have had different experiences of lockdown; for us being up in Scotland it had its own positives. We are north of the wall, as they say, with a population of just five million people.

As a primarily food service business, when lockdown happened things went quiet overnight. We had to manage a lot of stock, freeze some, get date extensions where possible, and unfortunately wasted a lot of fresh products and Continental products which could not be cancelled because they were in transit. Of course, Brexit added logistical challenges, too.

Retail was a small part of our business, but its growth was strong and it took precedence over everything. With people working from home and cooking a lot more, baking trends took off and necessities like dry pasta went through the roof. This caused challenges in logistics and production, with only a skeleton staff around to manage it all. It made us realise and value the importance of people who keep things moving in our day to day life.

We chose not to get into home deliveries but supported our independent retailers to the max, and in turn they were supported by their local communities. We stuck to what we do and did it better. Local communities had a big part to play in creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere for a lot of independent retailers who were just about getting their head around the ever-changing rules of engagement.

A lot of businesses realised that there was no need to work 24 hours a day on paper thin margins; instead, they realised that things would be smartly simplified, and so long as you supply quality produce you will enjoy repeat business.

There have been some highs within this challenging period. For us, retail grew through the roof and made us more visible in the market; we got closer to our customers during their tough times and built strong relationships which will see us through future changes. This could not have happened pre-lockdown, as we were all distanced and busy keeping up with the pace of life.

Retail and food service have changed for life, because the consumer has changed their mindset – they are eating better quality food, and it’s important for us to continue to push and reach out to local independent businesses. Technology will play a massive part in getting consumers, retailers, suppliers and hospitality together – it will help us build bridges, communicate faster, be more effective, and if needs be, keep social distancing.

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