Preparing For The Next Normal - Food Eco-System

Over the last 50 years we have perhaps become accustomed to a life of convenience and unhindered choice in food and drink irrespective of consequence. We perhaps all thought we had the right to continue on this trajectory on this planet we are privileged to call home, but we can't escape the fact it's a finite resource to which were inflicting damage.

In a crisis where the unthinkable has happened previously unimaginable approaches have become the new normal overnight, so perhaps this is the blueprint for tackling issues like sustainability, biodiversity and global food security? In some ways this crisis has become a dry run for how we as individuals, businesses, governments and a global community need to approach and proactively plan our response to the climate crisis.

While the circumstances and implications of COVID-19 are devastating millions of people and families, they illustrate how quickly behaviour and actions can change when push comes to shove.

We've seen real world practical examples of how a short spell of human activity has seen mother nature start to repair some of the damage caused to date such as improved air quality and pollution in densely populated urban areas, the translucence of the Venice canals and the reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions all underscoring the urgency of climate change action.

The risk of global pandemic was known, as is the climate crisis, yet the current COVID-19 pandemic serves to highlight the fragility of our food eco system. We expect to see a far greater focus on the strength and resilience of our wider food and drink system because we now know that when crisis comes it can come at speed and with global impact.

I thought Dave Lewis, Tesco CEO said it very well recently "I think what this crisis has shown is the importance of food retail. I think in the past, perhaps we may have taken that for granted. So I hope that as a nation, we'll think carefully about food, food strategy and distribution."

Key to the resilience of our total food system is biodiversity, the more variety and less dependence on fewer species, the greater the resilience to climate extremes. As we know 75% of the world's food comes from just 12 crops and 5 livestock species, now more than ever building in resilience through diversity, into our food is a critical imperative.

Our food & agricultural systems must be protected at all costs as they are vital to our survival, which means figuring out how to protect the micro-organisms, plants and creatures that live alongside us on a global level.

Farmers markets and farm to table restaurants may seem like a world away at the moment but those who frequented them will be familiar with terms such as Heritage and Heirloom. For many years these terms have been the reserve for the foodie few, but we expect to see a new relevance in a world where genetic diversity, variety and species helps drive biodiversity as well as flavour and nutritional value. What's more, at a time when community and connectivity with others feels more important, the appeal of heritage farming is stronger than ever.

Expect to see more technological advancements driven by the food security and biodiversity agenda. We anticipate change across the agriculture and food production spectrum from reviving long forgotten crop species to the rise of urban or indoor agriculture that bring food production closer to consumption, make them more transparent, socially conscious and climate friendly.

In the UK in particular, due to Brexit we'd been closely examining our inbound food supply chains and the reliance on inbound trade for some essential food supplies. The pandemic has accelerated this issue even more. On a global scale, the global food system has woken up to the fact that supply and demand relationships can disappear overnight. Expect a renewed focus on domestic grown produce and farming not only for the human and community connection that we discussed in article one but also for supply resilience perspective and labour required to farm and harvest.

COVID-19 has demonstrated that no one can prosper alone, there is a wider society and we're all part of it. The wider food and drink industry must put collaboration at the heart of what it does not just on specific issues such as this COVID-19 crisis but on systemic change to tackle the big issues of sustainability and climate action.

With consumers paranoid about virus spread expect to see hygiene, sanitation and welfare in its broadest possible sense reassessed from farming, food processing and manufacturing to serving out of home. This once 'given' becomes called into question – is this safe? Hygiene will become a core element of wellness. The speed of the virus's spread has highlighted the level of connectedness in food and drink and the associated risk if not addressed.

In all of our global analysis of research and commentary the word that comes up over and over is planning, and the subtle difference between assessing risks (we knew that pandemic influenza would have the biggest effect on society and the economy) and the detailed responses that are required, should the unthinkable happen. We now all know the unthinkable can happen so whether that be as governments, industry, communities or as individuals expect a greater focus on future planning in all aspects of life, of course in business but also the need to plan for the future in the consumer psyche - planning our next meal or meals with a contingency just in case.

In this article we've highlighted the shifts that are likely to persist post pandemic – learning from the shock and devastation from this crisis to apply to the next crisis – the climate crisis. We expect to see a greater focus on biodiversity, varietal diversification and domestic and local food infrastructure reliance. In addition, food and human hygiene, livestock health in the context of human health and future planning across business and society all front of mind. By considering these shifts and how you as a business, brand, start-up or entrepreneur, pivot and adapt in consideration of them, will mean that you're well positioned to succeed in the next normal in food and drink.

In article 3 we'll be looking at a new Pragmatism in food from waste, store cupboard cooking, seasonality and price sensitivity all through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic and the longer terms shifts that we expect to see manifest.