After Covid-19, what's the feed tomorrow?

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Small habits that will tend to disappear, profound changes in the ways of consuming, emergence of a "Covid Generation"? The health crisis raises the question of tomorrow's new trends in terms of consumption and, in particular, food. Agribashing, Distrust of industrial brands, distrust of distributors, the arrival of new, more virtuous players... French consumers have never been so well informed about the origin and content of their food on a daily basis as they have been during this health crisis. So, how will the French consume after confinement?

It is often said that disease is a great leveller, hitting rich and poor alike. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequalities inherent in our food systems around the world. The United Nations World Food Programme believes that the disruption caused by COVID-19 could double the number of people facing famine in the world to almost a quarter of a billion. Most of these people have been affected by previous conflicts and food crises, such as those of 2007-2008, which affected millions of people in developing countries. But the pandemic is taking its toll internationally, as evidenced by the latest 2019 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which states that in 2018, more than 113 million people in 53 countries suffered acute hunger, requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihood assistance.

On 2 June, FAO, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the John Hopkins Alliance for a Healthier World launched an online tool to help policy-makers better understand their food systems, identify their levers for change and decide which ones to exploit, the food systems dashboard (1). It is a holistic and innovative resource designed for policy makers, non-governmental organizations, businesses, civil society leaders and other stakeholders to enable them to gain a better - and timely - overview of their food systems, understand the interconnections between different sectors, make comparisons with other countries, identify key challenges and prioritize actions.

The international ravages

The pandemic is wreaking international havoc on the food front. While governments have tried to keep their citizens afloat with economic aid, "blockages" have highlighted the shortcomings of food systems that were already barely coping, even in some of the world's richest countries. New York City kept its school system open as long as it could, not for educational purposes, but to support an estimated 200,000 children whose schools provide them with a full and nutritious meal every day; some 368 million children worldwide are now deprived of such meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has promised to send cans of shelf-stable food to compensate for this loss, but this looks like a version of a previous program that remains underfunded and undernourished.

Food banks across the U.S. are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand while unemployment has skyrocketed, and in the U.K., 1.5 million people reported being without food for more than a day in the past month, unable to pay for their food despite repeated government promises to compensate for lost wages. Protests, looting and even riots have been reported in countries in the South, whose labour-intensive food systems are facing a "double whammy" of lost wages and production. Hunger linked to COVID-19 may well kill more people than direct infection.

However, there is no real food shortage, but rather a breakdown in logistics and systems. The drop in wholesale demand for restaurants and other food preparation businesses, which occurred overnight, has resulted in a staggering level of food waste. The New York Times reported that one Idaho farmer has buried a million pounds of produce; others are ploughing fields of unharvested beans while millions of gallons of milk - the equivalent of 5 % of daily U.S. production - are dumped into ditches. While affected producers may want to provide food to those who need it, the economics of transporting, packaging and storing food in our current industrial system make this impossible.
For the skilled workers on whom so many crops depend, the increased stringency of border controls has made crossing national borders a painful and prohibitive experience. In Europe, French farms made appeals to unemployed urban workers to help out in the fields, but those who responded quickly left; the "Pick for Britain" campaign tried to recruit 70,000 Britons for harvest and farm work, but the response was so meagre that special planes were chartered to transport Romanian farm workers. Ironically, these workers were applauded on the front pages of the same newspapers that used the fear of immigration from Eastern Europe to make the case for Brexit. President Trump's April 23 announcement of an immediate halt to all immigration to the United States quickly and quietly exempted migrant farm workers. 

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Until a vaccine can be developed, the new waves of this virus will make the lessons learned in recent months all the more important to protect our food systems from future blockages and uncertainties. Food banks can take a step back, but they are not a permanent solution. 

After the crisis, what diet?

During this health crisis, how did our food system behave in France? Beyond the "panic" phase of the first few days, which led to the influx of many consumers into supermarkets in search of "basic" products, the French then adapted to their temporary confinement and acquired new habits during the following weeks.

This is what emerges from the analysis of two experts on the subject, Marion Mashhady and Sylvain Zaffaroni, the two founders of the new Community To feed tomorrow : " It is clear that tomorrow's brands will be those that assume a strong mission (beyond their production) in the eyes of consumers: those that place people at the heart of their approach, that embody a cause and deep environmental, health and other commitments... "

But isn't the economic crisis of the coronavirus likely to slow down the good eating habits adopted by the French during confinement? For Sylvain Zaffaroni, the latter has nevertheless had the merit of getting things moving in the food industry: (…) "Brands will try to anticipate future health or economic crises. This event has accelerated their desire to be more virtuous, to set up eco-designed factories that use less energy, to reduce packaging, to be more in tune with the consumer... What happened after the Second World War is happening: we want to produce French for French people. The change of system will also have an ecological impact because it will generate much less transport and much more reasoned cultivation. »

New opportunistic marketing tool or real commitment from food brands? The future will tell but, in the meantime, the Community of For Feed Tomorrow deciphered and analysed how the Covid-19 crisis could accelerate the sustainable consumption trends that have been gaining momentum in recent years.

French customs and behaviour

With the appearance of the virus and the confinement, the French were, first of all, afraid that they would no longer be able to find the means to feed themselves. The shortage was foreseeable, stocks in the cupboards "necessary", basic ingredients (flour, eggs, butter ...) essential to the survival of families frightened by the forced management of three meals a day! And the solutions arrived spontaneously, by manufacturers, but also by new initiatives or the development of already approved uses: local, cooking, e-commerce, solidarity, ... And here is a new generation of consumers, whose certainties and habits will be upset for several weeks ... this necessarily leaves impacts for the rest of history and the end of the crisis. It is now obvious that we will no longer really consume as we did before and that we will be, in the marketing studies of the future, the "Covid Generation" consumers.

Covid Generation" consumers

During their initial analyses, Marion Mashhady and Sylvain Zaffaroni noted four major phenomena in the change in consumption behaviour of what is tending to become the "Covid Generation":

  • A desire to return to the essential: "Happiness is in simplicity". It must be said that the French have regained a taste for this maxim, as this simplicity conveys a deep sense of reassurance. Thus, they have massively turned to basics that are simple to use and products that form the basis of a varied and healthy diet, mostly home-made: raw products (flour, eggs, etc.), fresh (fruit and vegetables, meat or fish, etc.), products that are not very processed (canned vegetables, yoghurt, etc.).
  • Reinsurance in proximity: This return to the essentials has naturally led to the realisation that the proximity of production (agricultural, industrial, artisanal, etc.) ensures greater availability of products. Marion Mashhady and Sylvain Zaffaroni are convinced of this: from now on, the consumer will always be more in favour of a local product rather than one that comes from far away. In the event of a new crisis, there is no risk of shortage if supplies come from next door. According to an AMC Global survey, 33 % of consumers say they will become less dependent on the usual catering networks after containment, with a real desire to support local businesses in the future (38 %). They are also one-third (32 %) planning to prepare more home-cooked meals and 40 % said they plan to reduce their restaurant budgets.
  • The link between organic and disease-free: As a Nielsen ScanTrack study shows, consumption of organic products has increased sharply throughout the containment period, surpassing almost every conventional product. For many, pesticides are synonymous with disease, so a parallel seems to be drawn with Covid19.
    By eating local and organic, part of the French population thinks it is protecting itself, which explains the strong increase in this type of products.
  • Two-speed power supply: PwC study shows (2), 43 % of respondents indicate that price will be the main criterion for deciding on their food purchases after confinement. Whether they were, even before the start of the crisis, or whether they have forcibly become flexitarian, vegan, informed consumers of organic or favouring local food, the French will not necessarily be able to perpetuate their eating habits.

According to another Opinion Way study (3), 77 % of respondents are concerned about their purchasing power. It is clear that this fear will reinforce a cleavage between two types of consumers: those with the financial capacity to make these uses part of their habits: the latter will tend to continue to do so; and those who do not have the necessary purchasing power. According to To feed tomorrowIn the future, these consumers will return to more basic products, favouring local products as much as possible, but above all looking at the price.

The "Covid Generation" brands

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Miss. This is the greatest fear of the French at the beginning of the confinement. And yet, very quickly, the agri-food industry demonstrated an incredible organizational capacity to continue to feed the population. Brands have been able to prove to the French that they are on their side, and able to deploy the means to support them on a daily basis.

The crisis has opened up better communication between consumers and brands. Through numerous reports, as the absence of shortages also shows, the French have discovered the other side of the coin: they have become aware that behind these everyday brands, many people have committed themselves to providing them with the products they need while reassuring them: cashiers, restocking and logistics employees, lorry drivers, ...

The crisis would have made it possible to restore the value of French agri-food production. A few examples: the endives brand Northern Pearl has been able to maintain its production (made in France) with a food product that is reassuring for consumers: endive is the 4th the vegetable most consumed by the French. During containment, the brand strengthened its relationship with end consumers by ensuring a regular supply to supermarkets. Or the Fleury Michon brand with its 1TP3ViewCheck which allows you to visit the backstage of the brand's factories, advocating the origin of France and the Vendée, was one step ahead before the confinement on the transparency of its production.

A real commitment that consumers do not forget in times of health crisis and which favours the brand that wants to reassure. Brands such as Stoeffler or Guyader Gastronomie have continued to develop their sales to French consumers: they convey strong family values, relying on local strengths. Throughout the period of confinement, the productions have been adapted to offer only the "bestsellers" and thus ensure continuity in the availability of products.

It remains to be seen whether consumers will return to food that integrates related products again, and whether brands will be able to reintegrate these products into their ranges or whether this opens the door to profound changes?

How will the French consume after confinement?

In the future, food purchases will also increasingly be made in drive and e-commerce. In order to save time and to comply with the "stay at home" injunction, during the Covid 19 crisis, consumers increased online shopping and the use of drives for their food purchases. In line with their consumption habits for some and synonymous with real discovery for others, these two channels exploded during the containment and the bellows will not a priori fall back.

According to a Nielsen study last April, the market share of e-commerce for consumer goods could remain above 8% (compared to barely 6% in 2019) once the French are liberated! Indeed, once the psychological brake of novelty and technology has been passed, and both channels and services tested and approved, there is no reason for them to retreat in view of the advantages of convenience and time-saving that are dear to the hearts of (French) consumers at all times .

According to the network of local food retailers Doohyoulike32% of the French urban population live less than 5 minutes walk from a sign, places of work and leisure. And with extended timetables (7am to 10pm), city dwellers prefer to shop for food in close proximity. Moreover, the consumer trend towards these formats has become even more pronounced since March 2020. Geographical restrictions and a return to short circuits have led to further increases in the average number of shoppers visiting this type of store by 28% (4).

Drives: from the supermarkets to the new players...

In terms of drives, there were mainly the historic supermarket chains... and then, the confinement allowed new players to develop their own proposal. For example, local players were very quick to reinvent local shops (greengrocers, butchers and other food shops) and markets, which have certainly become "drive markets".

All this has allowed these different players to continue to exist, to fluidify in-store traffic, to increase the supply capacity of consumers and to simplify logistics for everyone.

So, the drive market will undoubtedly not replace the traditional market, in the same way the physical food shops will not disappear in favor of a 100% drive, because consumers see in these two channels notions of proximity, exchanges and social links even more essential in the next world. On the other hand, they will most certainly organise themselves and become sustainable for some as a one-off addition in certain situations and notably once again to save time. The GMS will also continue to see its digital offer progress to the detriment of physical stores...

Home delivery, organic products, fresh products and short delivery circuits

It will be understood that new consumers, who until now did not use the Internet for their food purchases, have developed and will continue to develop these new habits after confinement (at least for part of their purchases). For example, there are new aficionados of the delivery of organic and fresh products in short circuits.

In the future, consumers, pushed into their retrenchment, will support French producers and products even more, thanks on the one hand to the big players in the trade such as Carrefour and Casino who have put in place a value proposition during the crisis with the help of Deliveroo and Uber Eats, and on the other hand, thanks to the many players who will continue to develop and multiply in the months and years to come: alimentationcitoyenne.fr, cultures-locales.fr, pourdebon.com...

Short tours: online and live

The French will continue to regain control of their plate, to reappropriate their food for good from the choice of food to the choice of circuits. Thus the main short circuits known as AMAPs will continue to develop to the benefit of producers and consumers.

Farmers, for their part, hope wholeheartedly that consumers will not forget them, and that is why they will still have to simplify access to their products for consumers, in particular by further developing direct sales to consumers with creativity and agility.

To sum up, the food supply choices of the French after confinement will be, no more and no less, an extension of the Covid parenthesis, namely to favour digital to save time, local to gain in meaning and proximity to gain in connection.

Consumers are now full of new good habits and behaviors, the different players will have to be more than ever present and visible after confinement to allow them to continue easily and naturally on this momentum and more than ever new models will be able to emerge, provided that the agility and common sense of the Covid era lasts after release. The French will continue to regain control of their plate, to reappropriate their diet for good, from the choice of food to the choice of circuits.

(1) The Food Systems Dashboard is a new tool for policy makers that describes global, regional and national food systems. It brings together data from more than 170 food systems indicators and 35 sources from over 230 countries and territories. The objective is to help policy makers and other users to identify and prioritize actions to sustainably improve diets and nutrition in their food systems. www.foodsystemsdashboard.org 
(2) PwC study on the food consumption of the French during confinement, carried out by Kantar with 1,000 respondents - April 2020.
(3) OpinionWay study for the Vos Travaux Eco website.
(4) Sources: Nielsen surveys April 2020, Kantar 2020 and Ipsos 2019.

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