Menu Close

Food for Thought: Felix Project Chairman Gavin Darby Provides Insight on Impacts of the Pandemic on the Food Industry

Food for Thought: Felix Project Chairman Gavin Darby Provides Insight on Impacts of the Pandemic on the Food Industry

As we continue to navigate COVID-19, several industries are seeing short- and longer-term impacts. Some companies and businesses are weathering the storm, while others are experiencing significant difficulty. Regardless, almost no one is operating as they did prior to the pandemic.

Here, we take a closer look at the food and drink sector in a discussion with Gavin Darby, the Chairman of The Felix Project, a food redistribution charity based in London. Darby, who has a rich background and varied background in consumer goods, consumer technology, and more, offers his perspective on the current impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food and drink sector, and what we can expect moving forward.

As the pandemic continues, what trends are we seeing regarding its impact on the food and drink sector?

The biggest trend is that consumers are avoiding the traditional out-of-home outlets such as restaurants, cafes, and pubs. The food and drink that they used to consume on these premises are being consumed at home. So supermarket sales were up 15% during lockdown, and even after the opening of pubs and restaurant they are still up 5-10%  

The other big trend is the doubling of home delivery sales. These have grown from 7% pre the pandemic to 15% currently.

Are these trends surprising?

Not really! Government advice was to ‘stay home’. So this major change of where calories are consumed was a direct consequence. Home delivery helps the elderly or sheltered avoid human contact. Very important, especially at the peak of the crisis  

Has the food and drink industry experienced something like the pandemic before? What other events or circumstances could you look to for insight in these unprecedented times?

I think the pandemic is unique in modern times. Much more limited crises like foot and mouth, the tanker drivers fuel strike, and Brexit no deal preparations may have helped somewhat   

Actually the  food industry has responded magnificently. It has worked flat out to meet this increased retail demand throughout the pandemic. This is despite some colleagues absent through shielding, some ill with the  virus, and many absent while they looked after their children. Added to this factories have had to adopt new and burdensome procedures to make sure everybody is safe. Overcoming the impact of the initial panic buying the food industry has managed to feed the nation despite these huge constraints. 

How have consumers’ habits changed since the pandemic?

Consumers continue to shop far less frequently than before. Fewer, bigger shopping trips. Smaller local stores have done well.

There has been a shift to more cooking from scratch. Also, a home baking boom.

What key things may consumers not understand about the food and drink industry?

Probably the complexity of the International supply chain that is behind the food and brands that they just take for granted.

Do you anticipate any of the current trends or changes to the food and drink sector having a lasting impact even as things begin to return to “normal”?

The reaction to the pandemic has turbocharged the shift to direct delivery. This will continue. And of course this has a big impact on the traditional high street food stores. 

More working from home will mean more food consumed at home, and less at work and out of home.

Has there been any good to come out of the pandemic regarding this industry?

It has demonstrated how important the food industry is to the nation. Also the quality and resilience of its outstanding people.