Foodservice contraction will have huge implications

The foodservice sector should brace itself to shrink in size significantly from pre-pandemic levels with major implications for the supply chain, the head of the Food and Drink Federation has said.

Addressing a conference this week, Ian Wright said he did not expect foodservice to return to the 30% of national food consumption it accounted for before Covid-19 caused the widespread lockdown of the sector. Wright predicted the sector would be lucky to achieve above a 10-15% share of spend in future, adding this would have huge implications for those that work in the sector and those who supply it.

The latest data from The NPD Group showed foodservice spend crashed by 80% in April as lockdown forced pubs and restaurants to close their doors and shift to takeaway or delivery models.

Suppliers have attempted to divert surplus supplies to the retail sector which has been a major beneficiary of the shutdown of foodservice. For the four weeks to 14th June, online grocery sales alone soared by 91%, according to Kantar.

Concerns about the safety of returning to cafés and restaurants and a shift to more home working are set to depress the future prospects for the eating out of home sector.

Wright was speaking at this week’s Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum on developing a new national food strategy for England. In a wide-ranging discussion, NFU president Minette Batters warned the out-of-home sector would be the channel through which future food imported to lower standards than required in the UK would be sold.

As opposed to retail, which has strict food labelling requirements, Batters noted there is no mechanism in the out of home sector for people to know what they are eating. This raises the prospect of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef being sold to consumers without their knowledge under future trade deals that do not maintain existing UK standards of production.

Other notable perspectives from the conference included:

  • A call from Tim Lang, professor of food Policy at City University, London to treble the size of UK horticulture and end the “ecological stupidity” of growing crops or importing soya to feed to animals.
  • Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE), said PHE hopes to publish new salt reduction targets “as soon as we can do that”. Footprint revealed in May that work on reformulation programmes had been put on hold as PHE grappled with its response to Covid-19.
  • FSA chief executive Emily Miles called for more joined-up work on food strategy between government departments and agencies. Miles also stressed the importance of collaboration between regulators and the private sector to ensure food safety and standards are met.

Delegates were told that Henry Dimbleby is set to deliver an interim food strategy for England by the end of July.

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