Our Head of Food and Farming Philip Hambling writes how the NFU is responding to the coronavirus crisis, particularly the disruption it has caused in the food service market, and how we're ensuring farmers are continuing to keep the nation fed:
The scale of the disruption we have seen to the food service sector due to the coronavirus restrictions in the past week is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and I know farmers up and down the country who supply the likes of McDonalds and Nando’s will feel concerned about what this might mean.
We are in unchartered waters. Around half of the value in the supply chain comes from out-of-home eating and around three meals per week per person needs to shift from outside to inside the home through retail. This on top of the largest uplift in ‘panic buying’ the country has seen in living memory.
We have to adapt and the entire NFU has galvanised around not just supporting members directly but making sure we do all we can to minimise disruption in the market and bridge the supply and demand gaps. We need to do all we can to make sure our products get to citizens, particularly citizens in need. Where there is a public procurement need, we want to make sure Government knows where it can quickly get product to the vulnerable, using those supply chains most affected by the crisis.
However, the vast majority of food must now get there via the retail market. We must make sure all processors and food service businesses can access the value chain and keep moving. This will help stabilise the market and help us all rise to the national challenge of feeding the nation through this crisis. The NFU has been leading many of these discussions directly with business and government at the most senior levels on behalf of the entire farming industry.
We aim to fill as many of those gaps as possible, keep our supply chains running and ensure disruption to consumers and farm businesses is minimised. It’s imperative to us that we do not allow this disruption to damage our capacity in the supply chain and our ability to recover on the other side of this crisis.
Some products are easier than others to redirect but we are pressing all commercial, technical and production barriers to be overcome at an unprecedented pace. The imbalance in supply has already manifest itself across all the sectors, not least in dairy, poultry, potatoes and beef.
As an example, we are seeing huge demand for mince and the forequarter products through the normal product ranges in retail and the shutdown of burger restaurants will ease this but not solve the imbalance in the hindquarter without quick action. We believe retail can take the volume but the connections in the market, logistics, ranging and product format need to be rapidly overcome and a seismic shift must happen without delay.
Lamb producers face a different situation with the collapse of the export market this week, which has also faced massive disruption due to border closures and restrictions. We are seeing signs of increased demand domestically but over the next few weeks we need to try and ensure we can keep product flowing where we can at home and look for opportunities for a recovering EU market.
All the team at the NFU are doing all we can to keep supply chains running. It is absolutely imperative that processors and suppliers to food service are sustained and mobilised around delivering food to the nation and protecting our ability to recover when we’ve played our part in responding to the national crisis.
The UK food industry has built one of the most robust supply chains in the world and we are part of that story. Rest assured that the NFU is leading the way within industry and government to ensure current demand is met and the nation remains fed. It’s our collective responsibility to show the public what we can do at this unprecedented time.
NFU Head of Food and Farming