How is the food and drink sector reacting to Covid-19?

Covid-19 | Covid-19 Advice | Food & Drink | Reports

For those in the business world with limited awareness of Britain’s artisanal food & drink sector, it’s worth noting that for some time now it has seen continuous growth as people seek intriguing alternatives to the usual ‘convenience orientated’ products produced by the major multinational firms.

More people than ever are checking what goes into our everyday food and drink, questioning the presence of lazy or unnecessary artificial ingredients and yearning for a time when the industry’s produce was made locally in smaller batches – where the priority was food appreciation not economies of scale.

Supermarkets and a reviving independent food & drink sector (through delis, food halls, farm shops, etc) quickly grasped the nettle, recognising that smaller speciality brands were just the ticket when it comes to differentiating yourselves from your rivals.

Impact of coronavirus

On first inspection, one might assume that small food & drinks businesses with their loyalist audiences and lower levels of cash flow would be some of the first casualties of the current coronavirus crisis.

Yes, there has been heartache and setbacks, and yet in amongst the tears and tweaked forecasts there is a stubborn, uplifting resilience that is worth celebrating.

Peter Craig, the founder of independent ice cream maker and patisserie, Beckleberry’s, said: “We’ve returned to our ‘routes’ and restarted our home delivery service which is where our business began. The downturn has been difficult for us, since a lion’s share of our turnover was derived from the travel sector.

“When planes were grounded, we hoped to limp through courtesy of our strong train, high street café and foodservice customers, however ‘social distancing’ put pay to that’. Home delivery was something Beckleberry’s had been meaning to revisit for years but never got round to. ‘Social media reached 30,000+ in a few days and the response from locals determined to support their local pud provider was incredible. ‘This is a business venture’ concludes Peter,’ that we’ll continue long after the current restrictions have been lifted.”

Chocolate might well be deemed a non-priority during the current ‘focus on essentials’ we are experiencing, however, nothing temporarily resolves the blues better than a bar of quality chocolate.

Love Cocoa founder, James Cadbury, comments: ‘Thankfully our online sales are up 3000% compared to the same time the previous year. We’re also promoting random acts of kindness in partnership with the Duchess of York, by ensuring that for every product we sell, we donate another product to an NHS worker, providing them with a welcome pick-me-up after a long work shift.”

The alcohol industry is yet another sector where smaller, regionally affiliated brands have made their mark in recent times.

Dave Smith from the Oxford Artisan Distillery stated that this is no time to get morbid or downbeat. He said: “Having to stop on-site tours/close the distillery shop is a big, short-term setback but that’s all! Short-term we’ve focused our efforts on driving our online sales whilst fine-tuning our NPD priorities (making and laying down whiskey to cask), whilst also producing hand sanitiser for local hospital, health care and social services.”

Health-conscious brands are yet another food category that is prospering in today’s better informed and healthier living world.

According to Alan Bird from Purition – a healthy milkshake firm – said: “When the shops emptied, it wasn’t the processed, fatty or sugary foods that went first but the products with recognisable nutritional worth. In recent times plastic, carbon footprints and social purpose have been priorities. Moving forward I believe healthy and nutritional density will also get the recognition it deserves!”

British food & drink SMEs are readjusting to a changing world like everyone else and whilst the immediate outlook is ‘turbulent’ you certainly wouldn’t bet against them succeeding through this crisis.

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