April 1, 2020

Listen, watch and wait: how COVID-19 is changing food consumption

By Jeanine Moyer

The disconnect between consumers and food producers, or farmers, has never been more obvious. In this new COVID-19 world, where grocery store employees and truckers have never been more revered, it’s clear consumers aren’t aware of another type of front-line workers – the farmers who are working to produce the food to fill grocery store shelves.

Supply chain shift

Jo-Ann McArthur, Nourish Network partner and president and chief strategist at Nourish Food Marketing is in tune with the rapidly shifting food supply chain as a result of the ongoing pandemic. “The supply chain is pivoting as it moves from the traditional 60/40 mix of foodservice to grocery ratio to the new 15/85 mix of foodservice to grocery,” she says, noting the challenge that our supply chain can’t change that quickly.

The basic logistics of transporting food, necessary changes in municipal bylaws allowing off-hour store deliveries and staffing food processing plants are just some of the problems the supply chain is facing as focus shifts from the foodservice industry to grocery stores. “That’s why we’re seeing some shortages in stores – it’s not that we don’t have a stable food supply – it’s just the result of a rapidly changing supply chain.”

Community support soars

The good news for farmers and local food enthusiasts is that more people are turning to their local communities for information and support. And the result is a greater understanding to support their neighbours. From local craft breweries to community supported agriculture (CSA) food boxes, consumers are thinking, buying and supporting those closer to home.

“Look at the way farmers’ markets took off after the last recession,” McArthur says. “Dramatic social and economic situations like these will change consumer habits and we’re already seeing a shift in purchasing from the local community vendors, restaurants and farmers as consumers understand they need to support those around them.”

The face behind the food

Canadians are questioning their food now, more than ever. Health and exposure risks have some resisting take out options because they don’t trust the packaging or the number of people handling the food. Social media is full of ‘how to wash your food properly’ videos and questions about when farmers’ markets will open again. “Consumers have always wanted to know more about food, the food system and farmers,” says McArthur. “But when we come out of this, it’s going to be more important than ever to meet consumers where they want to be – trust and transparency will be critical.”

Jeanine Moyer is a Senior PR & Content Specialist at AdFarm. She is a seventh generation Ontario farmer who is passionate about anything to do with food and farming.