How COVID-19 will shape the future of the food industry

The post-COVID situation for the food industry may be a concern for the average consumer. The impacts might be most felt by the grocery and restaurant sectors and one has to wonder what the business might look like when we emerge from the pandemic.

“It depends which country you’re in,” says Dr. David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College, London, England. “If you look at the impact of COVID globally, then many Asian countries had COVID ‘light,’ whereas I would suggest in Canada, and certainly in Europe, and the U.S. as being COVID ‘heavy.'”

Hughes recently spoke on this subject at the Farm & Food Care winter speaker series to share insight into what the next few years in food trends may look like.

Almost everyone lost a bit of income initially at the onset of the pandemic, and the quickest to recover were those working in offices, which is reflected in their savings accounts. Those that are more pressed are the ones being paid by the day or hour, or are living paycheque to paycheque.

However, grocery stores target lower income households in general, and will fight “tooth and nail” and create pretty vicious price wars, says Hughes. “Whenever you see a price war, you know that it means it will work away, it will narrow margins in the food industry, everybody will hurt, but consumers will do well.”

Certain food trends have been accelerated by the pandemic, like meal delivery service, but Hughes thinks the trend won’t be going anywhere afterwards. Over the next decade, Hughes thinks that the relative power of grocery stores will decline, and that meal delivery services will have an accelerated rate of growth.

Will people want to continue using a meal kit service? It’s not necessarily “cooking from scratch” says Hughes, it’s more like assembly, and he foresees this trend sticking around as well, with even more options in the future.

One thing Hughes doesn’t see slowing down is the push for more “planet friendly” diets, despite meat sales doing so well during the pandemic. For plant-based foods to continue their phenomenal growth through all the years, relative to their relatively low base, plant-based products will have some points to improve on, especially their packaging.

Globally, meat demand is growing, and Hughes expects it to remain stable in countries like Canada. In the U.S., both meat and plant-based product consumption is going up, which is a trend Hughes hasn’t quite pinpointed yet.

Listen in to the full conversation between Hughes and Bernard Tobin:

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