I was asked recently by Roythornes Solicitors to share my thoughts in their 1-2-3 Food column, so here goes:
One business highlight of the last year
2020 marks our 20th anniversary year and despite the current challenging times we all face, we certainly want to champion the fact that over the past 20 years we have become a market leading recruiter within the food and agriculture sector and have helped hundreds of people get new roles with our clients throughout the UK, Europe and even as far afield as Australia, Africa and the Middle East. We had plans for celebrations on the anniversary date in April and later in the summer, so disappointing that those are on hold for now, but still something to look forward to later in the year!
Two challenges for the sector
1. The first major challenge is the ongoing issue of attracting talented individuals at all levels to work in the sectors we operate in. This has always been the key “people issue” over the years for most of our clients and is likely to be an ongoing challenge – even if there is a short term ‘Covid Dividend’ for some businesses as people recognise the underlying resilience of large parts of the food sector.
2. Another people related challenge is going to be the management issues that will undoubtedly come about as a result of those of us who have got used to working from home. Flexible working for those that can do it is here to stay. Even sceptics like me have to admit that. However, along with the positives we can take forward from the new “WFH” practices, there will be some interesting challenges for both managers and employees. Many of our clients have been extremely pleased with how it has worked out so far and how quickly people have adopted new ways of working, but the challenge long term is not going to be just a technological one. Offices help us interact with our colleagues, they help us build teams, develop us as people and create business cultures. WFH might be an easy adjustment for people who already have a track record on the job and relationships to maintain but how does that work for the new employee who may struggle to get to know their colleagues or the youngster just starting out on their career?
Three forecasts for the sector
1. The retail supply chain and foodservice sector will remain very challenging. Retail suppliers will have done alright during covid regarding volumes (in general) but the continued pressure on price and therefore margin squeeze will continue. It maybe even increase with Tesco’s every-day low price promise and the foodservice sector will not get back to anything like pre-covid volumes for many years.
2. There will be significantly less business travel conducted with more use of video conferencing technology. This will save time and money and be better for the environment, but will it have a detrimental effect on relationships in the supply chain? There’s bound to be less conferences and events, so traditional networking opportunities will be limited and that means businesses will need to work harder and smarter on their customer relationships.
3. Automation within the supply chain is also something that will accelerate over the next 12 months. Even before the current Brexit and covid related labour issues, many of our clients were driving significant investments, looking at more efficient ways of harvesting and processing and developing new equipment that can reduce their reliance on seasonal labour. This is only going to be more important in the future as not only a way to head off potential labour shortages but also to increase productivity and help reduce costs even further to keep pace with retailer price demands.
We'd be interested to hear your feedback or experiences on any of the above. You can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.