Coronavirus: When will things get back to normal?

Monday, 4 May 2020

Will lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak reset shoppers' attitudes to food? MI Director Phil Bicknell is pragmatic about the possibilities.

Admit it, most of us have asked this question in recent weeks. Thinking about it in an agrifood context, the answer I keep coming back to is, ‘not any time soon’.

We’re seeing short-term oversupply for some commodities and that will weigh heavily on both domestic and global prices.

A silver lining for potato growers is the increasing number of chip shops reopening over the last couple of weeks, but more widely, we need to be realistic.

The bottom line is that foodservice businesses won’t re-open at the same rate they closed their doors. For those that do decide to re-open, it is likely that social distancing restrictions will put a ceiling on their capacity.

In addition, we need to consider the likely footfall. Whilst some of us may be itching to get to pubs, bars and restaurants post-lockdown, a greater proportion of people indicate they will visit less often.

Opting for the familiar

We can’t ignore how a potential recession will impact demand for food. Shoppers are opting for the familiar over trialling new products, with this a sign of recessionary behaviour. 

Many of us in the farming industry will be wondering whether coronavirus resets shoppers’ attitude to food. However, I think a similarly pragmatic approach is needed here, too.

We know that coronavirus has shifted shopping habits, with IGD data telling us that 41% of shoppers have visited a store they wouldn’t usually.

Attitudes to provenance

Farm shops and independents have benefited from individuals breaking their normal habits and shopping locally. I will be interested to see whether some of this footfall remains post-lockdown, but the evidence points to this being about food availability rather than any shift in shopper attitudes to the provenance of the food they buy.

With so much uncertainty, reviewing business plans and budgets against different scenarios is a challenge. However, it doesn’t mean businesses shouldn’t do it.

To help with this, AHDB will share assumptions about the economy, consumer behaviour and a range of sector-specific issues in the coming weeks.

These factors will be incorporated into our forecasts ahead of our update to the Agri-Market Outlook later in June.

Phil Bicknell

Market Intelligence Director