We are experiencing the biggest health and economic crisis in generations. COVID-19 has drastically changed our lifestyles and with emergency measures imposed by governments worldwide to curb the spread of the virus, major disruptions have emerged across industries.
The food and beverage (F&B) sector is notably one of the hardest hit. From disruptions to supply chains to shifts in consumption habits, a new normal has emerged for businesses. With the end of COVID-19 nowhere in sight, these challenges will continue to ripple through the industry and impact the way business is conducted and the way consumers make purchases.
To ensure that industry players remain competitive and relevant in today’s evolving environment, there is an urgent need to look towards the adoption of innovative solutions across the food supply chain in adapting to the new normal.
On the consumer front, there has been a step change in the adoption of online grocery shopping as consumers look for contactless food access during the pandemic. As more people realize the convenience and ease of shopping online, this growth trajectory is expected to continue in a post COVID-19 environment.
A recent study found that Indonesian consumers are shopping online 16 percent more often than pre-pandemic levels and they intend to increase their purchase frequency on such channels even after the outbreak stabilizes. Although this trend was detectable before the crisis, COVID-19 has rapidly propelled the uptake of online shopping, even in Japan where consumers are known to prefer buying groceries at physical stores so they can inspect fresh foods first-hand.
In addition, consumers are choosing to cook more often at home and have become more health conscious, which in turn leads to a rise in demand for more fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, and meat. Inevitably, this has resulted in an increased focus on food safety as fresh foods delivered via online channels are shipped over longer distances and are subjected to extreme weather conditions.
Such shifts in consumption habits present new challenges for businesses in coping with the increased demand from e-commerce platforms while still ensuring that quality and safety standards of foods are met; however, those that are able to quickly adapt their products and services will be well-positioned to capture interest and demand.
While the spotlight over the last few months has largely been on slowing down human transmissions and protecting the health of populations, what’s lesser known is a hidden side-effect of COVID-19: the growing amounts of food waste.
Before the pandemic, about one third of food produced for consumption went to waste, representing US$1 trillion in lost economic value. Almost half of all fruits and vegetables were wasted. The current measures such as nationwide lockdowns and restrictions on the movement of labor, raw materials and perishable foods are expected to exacerbate the problem from farm to plate.
From food producers in the US to rural farming locations in India, we are observing the dumping of milk, and fruits and vegetables being left to rot due to disruptions to supply chains and a drastic fall in demand from restaurants as well as schools.
With the world population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 and more marginalized groups facing acute food insecurity, it is now more important than ever that we do our part to cut food loss and waste across every stage in the food value chain.
With the new challenges and trends arising from the pandemic, the most pressing question for the F&B industry now is how it can create a supply chain that addresses new consumer preferences and minimizes food waste. Essential food packaging, although often overlooked, is key to the solution as it ensures the right amount of food is delivered while ensuring that safety and quality are not compromised irrespective of it being an online grocery or food delivery platform.
On average, products go through more than 15 handoffs or touchpoints throughout the supply chain journey and this has become increasingly complex with the current drive towards ecommerce. Businesses, therefore, need to adapt their packaging solutions so that food products can withstand the rigors of the modern-day supply chain and address consumer needs for safety and convenience.
We are seeing a significant growth in the adoption of some of our more advanced solutions such as cook-in or freezer-ready packaging. Solutions like vacuum skin packaging is specially engineered for fresh meat applications and delivers flexible portion sizes all the while extending product shelf life. It is also a more sustainable option as vacuum packaging uses at least 40 percent less material compared to other similar solutions, while eliminating material scrap and cost of waste.
Evidently, more industry players are recognizing the importance of integrating technologies with packaging solutions to meet demand from online grocery sites while simultaneously minimizing food waste and the associated environmental impacts.
But the role of packaging can go beyond protecting a product — it can also be used to inform consumers about sustainable living and ways to minimize food waste. At the recent Food Industry Asia (FIA) Dialogues, industry experts highlighted the role of packaging in educating consumers about nutrition, storing and cooking food, and using leftovers, as well as its ability to enable traceability of their food through the supply chain.
Furthermore, when you have a product that is easy to store, easy to prepare and has a long shelf life, it will likely to be more attractive and desirable to the average consumer.
In times of unprecedented change and disruption, the continuity of the global food value chain will rely on the agility of industry players. As new sales channels and priorities continue to emerge, the industry needs to make every possible effort to adapt solutions across different stages in the supply chain and consider how they can create products that are appealing and compatible to the post-pandemic environment.
Packaging’s role in the food supply chain is often underestimated, but with the right technology and application, it can go a long way in ensuring our supply chain remains sustainable and resilient to unprecedented challenges. Sustainable food production is key to ensuring food security and nutrition.
Sustainability director for Asia Pacific at Sealed Air, who spoke at the Food Industry Asia Dialogues held virtually on July 27-29
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.