Sustainable Food-Supply Businesses Thrived During Covid-19. What Does That Mean for the Future of Food?
Consumers have begun to pay more attention to the methods and values of brands.
In the early days of March 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic began to make its way across the world, it was clear that virtually every industry was about to change. Some for the worse, and some for the better.
Commercial real estate suffered an almost immediate negative impact, as legions of workers were suddenly sent home to work remotely without any indication of when they'd be back in the office again. Educational services were another hard-hit sector, as were entertainment venues due to bans on in-person gatherings.
However, some industries weren't just able to find success during the pandemic — they were able to thrive. Sustainable food-supply businesses were among them. According to the American Public Health Association, a sustainable food-supply business is one that provides healthy food to meet the current needs of our communities and that does so by using processes and systems that aren't contributing to pollution, don't rely heavily on non-renewable energy and are economically efficient.
Indeed, despite everything going on in the world right now with the pandemic, some organizations in this category may have come out all the better because of it. This is true for many different reasons, all worth exploring.
Sustainable food in a Covid-19 world
One of the significant reasons sustainable food-supply businesses thrive during Covid-19 is the perception they give off to the public at large. Experts agree that, especially in uncertain times (and that describes the last two years), consumers begin to pay closer attention to the methods and values of brands. Given everything going on in the world, what could be more important than supporting brands that want to protect our environment and leave the world a better place?
In many ways, it's something that has been ingrained in the DNA of the industry from its beginnings. Many have insisted that food production shouldn't simply be about meeting the marketplace's demand. It should also use its unique position to promote the health and vitality of all those who consume those products.
But the only way you're going to get to that point is to offer products that are free from things like pesticides or other problematic additives, produced in environments that are safe for workers and that emphasize the natural qualities of the items above all else.
Challenges (and solutions) along the way
That's not to say that the industry itself didn't face its fair share of challenges during the pandemic — far from it. According to the experts at Deloitte, one of the issues is that the modern food system is so interlocked — meaning that a disruption at any one link in the proverbial chain could have a potentially devastating ripple effect.
One of those links is production. This includes not only farmers and other suppliers, but also food producers and more. The next is processing, which comprises the organizations that process that food and the manufacturers who turn it into the types of products you might find on store shelves. Following that is the distribution portion of the process, which is how important food items get onto those store shelves to begin with. Finally, we have the consumers — both those individuals who buy the products and the collective, national level.
Immediately after the pandemic began, production issues occurred worldwide. This was especially true for farmers who relied on migrant workers to harvest crops. The same Deloitte study above indicated that farmers in California, Florida and elsewhere in the United States struggled to secure enough labor to keep up with demand.
Processing also became an issue, as these workers typically operate in close quarters with one another. It was estimated that when entire plants had to shut down because of an outbreak in Covid-19, it led to a massive 15% increase in the price of meat by the end of May 2020 alone.
Relying on food suppliers strategically located as close to demand as possible — meaning cities and other urban environments — can help cut costs and eliminate inefficiencies in the supply chain. Initially, this was done to cut down on an organization's carbon footprint. During a crisis like Covid-19, it also became an advantage by reducing reliance on shipping and distribution.
Not only that, but a shorter supply chain also helps sustainable food-supply businesses better prepare themselves for a sudden change in consumer demand. As we saw at the onset of the pandemic, buying patterns changed rapidly in nearly every vertical. Those agile organizations were the ones that suffered the least amount of disruption, and due to their lean nature, sustainable food suppliers were chief among them.
A bright future for sustainable food
Overall, this is the logical conclusion to a trend that's been gaining momentum for quite some time. It was estimated that sustainable food companies helped eliminate roughly 8 million pounds of food waste in 2019 alone. Wasted food translates to significant economic loss. Under totally normal circumstances, that would be a bad thing. When you're talking about a situation like Covid-19, that would be dire.
Therefore, sustainable food businesses can thrive by doubling down on what they've always prioritized. It's about reducing the environmental impact, yes, but it's about more than that too. Their efforts go a long way towards positively impacting the entire economy and efficiently providing the healthiest options for consumers in their time of need. That in and of itself shows that the energy spent on sustainable food supply is more than worth it.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor