COVID-19: Recovery and Resurgence for the Food, Agriculture and Beverage Industry

April 21, 2020

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It’s clear the pandemic has forever changed the world. As the recent survey from FleishmanHillard‘s TRUE Global Intelligence practice revealed, the virus is reshaping perceptions, behaviors, values and societies. These changes will be longstanding, and they will touch every industry – including food, agriculture and beverage.

FleishmanHillard’s research, which was conducted in the United States, China, Germany, Italy, South Korea and the United Kingdom, provides a snapshot of the various stages and expectations of the crisis, voiced by a cross-section of the population. It does this on a macro level, and it offers insights applicable to the food and agriculture industry specifically. These include:

Dramatic proportions of the global population are concerned about their health and financial stability.

  • Consumers worldwide are concerned about the impact of this crisis on their health (78%) and their finances (74%). In fact, a full one-fifth are extremely concerned about its impact on health and finance.
  • Concern is higher in the U.S. for both health impact (83%) and financial situation impact (79%), and the level of concern varies by generation – with Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation expressing greater concern on the impact of COVID-19 on their health compared to young generations and Millennials and Gen X expressing greater concern about their financial situation compared to older generations.
  • This concern could lead to changing purchase behaviors, which could include cutting back on expenses but or purchasing foods, beverages and products they haven’t before, with the latter potentially displacing sales of their previous go-to foods and beverages.

From charitable support to new approaches to innovation, companies need to go beyond “business as usual.”

  • Consumers want companies to provide essential products outside of their normal offerings and create products and services that help people connect and feel less isolated. For FAB companies, this could mean restaurants offering groceries during this period and manufacturers producing products they’ve never made before, like hand sanitizer.
  • Many consumers also want companies to make charitable donations to organizations that are helping to lessen the impact of the crisis.

Consumer confidence will require new standards of cleanliness.

  • Expectations for specific standards to make restaurants, grocery stores and food safer will likely grow as the pandemic continues and recovery begins.
  • Already, 59% of consumers want companies to limit the number of people in a shopping or transportation locations at one time; 58% want employees to wear PPE while interacting with the public; and 40% want reduced hours to allow for deep cleaning.
  • It is key to recognize that these are operational changes, which will need to be factored into business models.

Employees matter.

  • 52% of consumers described employers taking better care of their employees as “very important,” and 91% are willing to take action to support workers.
  • From the employees’ perspective, 82% expect social distancing measures to be implemented, 66% want better communication from their employers; 63% expect greater flexibility; and 63% want the new benefits currently implemented to remain permanent.
  • These findings, along with the desired safety changes, mean that changes implemented during the crisis will, at least in part, make up the “new normal” for employers and employees going forward. Companies should begin to understand how these changes will play out for themselves and their employees.

Experiences today will shape the realities of tomorrow.

  • The home quarantine experience has produced major mind shifts regarding responsibility, risk, health, freedom and time, which in turn will shift purchase habits, loyalty and employment decisions.
  • This is particularly true for Gen Z who were not only the most likely to report that the quarantine has made them view people as more dangerous, altered their sense of time and changed their view of their living pace, but they are also the most likely to look for another job with an employer based on their support of its employees and consider how a company behaved during the pandemic when considering employers in the future.
  • FAB businesses should take these broader shifts into account now as they make and communicate decisions.

These insights reinforce the reality that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the food and beverage industry. However, the specific impact will vary based on the industry sector. In the coming weeks, we’ll provide perspective from our network of in-house experts on the implications for the restaurant industry, consumer packaged goods, commodities and more.