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Food for Thought — New Perspectives on How COVID-19 is Reshaping Communications in Food, Drink and Agribusiness

July 16, 2020
By Liam McCloy

There is no doubt the impact of COVID-19 has been profound on the food, agribusiness and beverage (FAB) industry. The pandemic has reshaped – and will continue to affect – our communities, culture and economy. Food security, the food supply chain, and related issues have become urgent concerns for many people and the food and drink we choose to purchase and consume in many ways reflects our hopes and fears as a society.

How do companies and organisations operating in the FAB sector make sense of the uncertain times in which we currently live and chart a course forward that anticipates and resonates with people’s expectations and experiences?

Today we share with you some thinking from our seasoned consultants in the UK in a new report Food for Thought that starts to put the pandemic in context and help us understand how COVID-19 has magnified, distorted or displaced concerns that existed before the virus appeared and will share the stage with it over the coming years. The report shares insights as to how businesses and organisations have responded and should invest in communications accordingly. These include:

1. The pandemic has changed how we shop and what we shop for with signs that people are buying more locally from a diverse range of suppliers. Communications are key to helping businesses pivot the way they operate and take advantage of new opportunities. Many people have taken enormous comfort and joy from food and drink during the pandemic and consumers on social media have celebrated those brands that have acted nimbly and with sensitivity, while speaking with a clear and concise honesty.

2. As economies around the world start to emerge from lockdown, communications can help business ‘build back better.’ New research we commissioned into UK public opinion revealed COVID-19 has increased the urgency and impatience of people wanting to see tangible measures taken to care for our planet and its resources. It will be deeds, not words that will determine whether business can meet consumers’ growing expectations of action on the climate crisis.

3. With the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the global momentum of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the FAB industry also needs to work out how ‘building back better’ might apply to tackling the diversity and inclusion challenges that exist in the sector. Sadly, there is no quick fix for racism in our society. We encourage companies and organisations to think about how they might sustain the steps they have taken and continue to take on this issue as part of a long journey. And for those that haven’t yet taken action, to start soon.

4. Finally, the current trade talks between the UK / U.S. and UK / EU will shape our shopping baskets for years to come. The UK has a great history and tradition of producing food, but we are by no means self-sufficient, and not all our local produce can be grown at scale and economy. Given that we are going to be living with COVID-19 for a while yet it’s more important than ever that our global food supply chains are resilient. Businesses and organisations in the sector should be lobbying for international trade deals that allow the UK secure access to a wide variety of affordable foods produced to high standards.

While our perspectives have been shaped by our experiences in the UK we hope that our findings, analysis and recommendations contain some relevance for your own work.