What Happens Next in the Food and Drink industry?

empty shelves in sainsbury's

I have never known anything like this – it’s like the effect of the Twin Towers ‘9/11’ plus the Financial crisis combined in its impact. Extraordinary. I’ve spoken to about 30 clients this week and we all have very similar concerns for our teams as the virus is a human issue first and foremost.

It feels like for these next few weeks we will be at ‘peak uncertainty’ and then gradually the shock and awe phase will give way to re-evaluation, reprioritisation and adjustment as we start to grapple with the ‘new normal’ and feel our way into the weeks and months ahead.

In line with government advice, it won’t surprise you that we’ve moved all our face to face research over to online quant and qual methods. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know we have already made this transition, so it’s no drama or sudden change. We use a mixture of security-first tools alongside proprietary tech to ensure we have access to everything we need for projects, using dashboards to ensure both our team and clients can access what they need from wherever they’re working.

Not to downplay the impact of the virus, but for us and our clients the work continues – projects are continuing as normal, and we’re not phased by this necessary shift to online research. In fact, as we see it, it’s got some real upsides. Kim’s article from a few months back outlines the benefits to clients of this way of working.

Amidst the 24-hour cycle and ramping levels of anxiety, clients are reacting at warp speed to retailer requests and retailers are doing an amazing job in a hugely challenging environment. The job of the food and drink industry is to feed the nation. We see our job as supporting our clients who do that. What is interesting is that we have kicked off a couple of new research projects this week, online research makes us more agile and responsive so we can move quickly to help clients make the right commercial decisions quickly.

The majority of HRA’s quant work is already online and for qualitative work we use a range of tools according to the project such as immersive online pop-up communities, video interviews, online focus groups etc. For example, where the group dynamic is important, we’re using video rooms and conferencing platforms; for other studies we’re using online platforms, video and telephone.

Feedback in the last few days from our almost 1,000 strong research-ready HRA panel is that they are keen for virtual social contact, which is great. We are also tracking social conversations and hashtags as well as looking at social imaging to pick up food and drink relevant trends such as stockpiling, panic buying and social isolation. Aspects of behavioural science help us explain some of the reactions to the virus and we’ll share our more detailed take on what we see going on in food and drink before too long.

After this time of reaction will come a time of reflection and adapting to the new market conditions. That will vary hugely brand by brand and retailer. Supply chains need to be stabilised, customer, brand and sales plans need to be changed (moving targets up as well as down) and the impact on NPD worked through.

Shoppers too are changing in what they think and how they behave through this period and the million-dollar question is how much of this change will be retained once we get through the pandemic. This will throw up new opportunities and shopper needs for brands and retailers to address.

The food and drink industry is needed to feed the nation and our job is to support our clients in doing that. We shouldn’t sugar coat the issues we face at the moment. But, there are grounds for cautious optimism – this week already there are new opportunities for products and brands just as much as there are new challenges to deal with. So if you want help as you start to grapple with the implications, or just want to let off some steam on a video call, let’s talk.

Stay safe.


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