The COVID–19 pandemic continues to impact every industry and sector worldwide, but perhaps none more than the food industry. Lockdowns and restrictions to try and stop the spread of COVID-19 have led to shutdowns, closures and supply disruptions, from food packaging to processing and retail.
Despite no scientific evidence to suggest that the virus is transmitted by food, consumer habits and attitudes have changed dramatically during 2020. Convenient and affordable, frozen food sales witnessed a resurgence during the pandemic and manufacturers and analysts are confident it’s here to stay.
With lockdowns forcing many people to stay at home, it’s hardly a surprise that the latest food trends include a return to home cooking and baking. There’s also been an increase in demand for organic, plant-based, vegan and vegetarian foods, while interest in food products such as flour, bread, fruits, milk and chicken has also increased significantly and almost two in five consumers in the UKhave turned to long-life food, such as tinned goods.
The article, from The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), points to a recent study in Spain that describes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s interests, opinions and behaviour towards food. An analysis of online keywords indicates a significant increase in the popularity of searches for “Recipes” and “Delivery”.
By examining Spanish internet searches, most-watched YouTube videos and tweets in relation to COVID-19 and food, plus an additional online questionnaire that investigated food shopping habits in Spain during lockdown, it was revealed that fresh vegetables were purchased more often, home cooking was on the rise, while interest in restaurants decreased. But it isn’t only restaurants that are struggling.
Retailers are trying to meet the needs of consumers who are spending more time at home while tending to the needs of their families as they attempt to balance good eating habits. According to Forbes, The International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food and Health Survey findings identify the need for the food industry to build trust and help households achieve their wellness goals.
The survey revealed that:
- 54% of all American consumers, and 63% of those 50+, care more about their food and beverage choices in 2020 than they did ten years ago
- 18% of Americans use an app or device to track physical activity, food consumption or overall health; 66% say it led to healthy changes they otherwise wouldn’t have made
- 26% of U.S. consumers snack multiple times a day
- 28% of Americans eat more proteins from plant sources than they did in 2019; 24% eat more plant-based dairy; 17% eat more plant-based meat alternatives
- 74% of Americans try to limit sugar intake in 2020, down from 80% in 2019
The food industry will continue to be challenged
The last nine months have seen a large demand for shelf-stable food products, such as macaroni, flour and rice, as well as for fruits and vegetables with high sources of vitamin C. However, restrictions caused by the pandemic have limited production and caused delays in the transportation of goods.
There’s been a reduction in demand for “more exotic foods” and this trend is expected to continue. The study of attitudes and eating habits suggests that fewer shopping trips in lockdown have reduced consumption of the most perishable food products, such as ﬁsh and seafood.
This, conceivably, could be true for most countries that aren’t landlocked, but the sales of non-perishable, ready meals also dropped. Once again, this has been attributed to ready meals being considered unhealthy and consumers spending more time cooking from scratch – restricting the growth of various sectors of the global frozen ready meal market around the world.
Food production has been hugely affected as many plants are complying with social distancing and safety rules, with fewer workers harvesting fruits and vegetables in the primary sector. In busy production lines, it’s difficult for employees to socially distance, while noisy machinery obliges shouting as employees try to communicate to each other. This could increase virus-containing droplets lingering in cold temperatures.
Delays in the food supply chain
The transportation of food products is being hampered by delays, a lack of space on transport and increased prices. According to data collected and analysed by Marine Traffic, barge services have been held up at a number of ports, with major ports adopting a 14-day quarantine period for vessels arriving from, or transiting through, China.
Such delays in transportation may result in extended storage, which, in turn, could affect the quality and safety of products. There are also concerns about the quality of products imported from countries highly affected by COVID-19. These issues are creating food safety challenges across the industry.
Although a lot of effort and investment has gone into safeguarding workers at manufacturing plants, outbreaks continue across the globe. The shutdown of these plants and the changing consumer behaviours and price increases, have altered food supply chains.
Last, but by no means least, with many restaurants forced to close while others continue to operate at less-than-full capacity, consumers have turned to pre-packaged goods. During Singapore’s eight-week lockdown, an additional 1,470 tons of plastic waste was generated from takeout packaging and food delivery alone. In percentage terms, Bangkok consumed 62% more plastic in April 2020 than it did in April 2019.
The importance of GFSI 2021 in a COVID-19 world
The problems highlighted above confirm that COVID-19 has meant a tough year for the food industry and has affected every stage of its supply chain. Businesses are faced with concerns about food production, processing and distribution, making this year’s virtual GFSI Conference increasingly significant for food industry decision-makers from around the world to meet and work to advance food safety worldwide.
In just two decades, GFSI has become an international movement qualified to unite the food industry on one common goal: a safe food supply for all. Renowned experts, academics, CEOs, public authorities, industry leaders, innovators and grassroots players from the private and public sectors will all be in attendance once again to share knowledge, strengthen networks, showcase learnings and improve food safety management practices.
GFSI 2021 – Food safety: Rethink, Reset, Recharge
The food industry has never had to be more flexible – adapting to new ways of working to ensure food production and supply. However, the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19 will require the industry to adapt further and faster still. It’s time to take stock and move forward; an opportunity to rethink, reset and recharge – the theme for the first virtual GFSI Conference.
Rentokil Initial is proud to be Diamond sponsors of the event for the sixth year in a row. As the leader in pest control and hygiene solutions, we have one important mission: to protect people and enhance lives.
Gary Booker, Chief Marketing, Innovation and Strategy Officer, is looking forward to this year’s virtual offering:
“We had three fabulous days at the event last year and, although it will be slightly different this time round, it will still be vital to the food industry; the need for knowledge sharing and collaboration has never been higher.
It’s no coincidence that multinational brands in over 80 countries around the world trust us to help advance their food safety standards. We understand the challenges businesses face when assessing and controlling risk throughout complex, global supply chains, especially in this unprecedented year. Which is why, with over 95 years of expertise, we continuously innovate and deliver solutions that will help food businesses mitigate pest and hygiene risks and ensure food safety in a sustainable manner. It’s because of our dedication to food safety that we’re proud sponsors of the GFSI Conference for the sixth year running.”
Rentokil Initial’s global, data-driven pest insights can help businesses deliver new levels of efficiency and control in managing pest threats by combining traditional pest expertise with pioneering digital technology. At this year’s event, our experts will be available to help you overcome challenges and explain how technology, data and insight can be harnessed sustainably to protect your food business in this new normal and beyond. We look forward to meeting you – virtually – at the event.