The Covid lockdown forced many small food producers in East Anglia and across the country to face situations they would never have contemplated when starting their businesses.
‘If we put all but our core workers on furlough and cut operational costs to the minimum, can we survive?’
‘My restaurant is shut but I can’t just sit here doing nothing.’
‘We make and deliver to both retailers and food service outlets. But with the hospitality sector closed, can we afford to continue servicing the retailers?’
‘But hang on, we make food, not metal widgets. People need to eat, even in a pandemic.’
The pandemic changed everything for East Anglia’s food producers
Changes were forced on all businesses. There was a degree of Government support available, but, importantly, if they had the vision, business owners still had options.
A chef created a delicatessen in part of his restaurant from which he sold a range of products straight from his kitchen. He was up every morning baking fresh bread and pastries for local residents.
Online sales came into their own, as producers made everything (£) from ready-to-eat snacks to three course Christmas meals available for delivery to your door.
During Covid restrictions, there were still opportunities for those willing to consider new routes to market. Once the country started to open up again, the lockdown entrepreneurs discovered they had a range of new options available to augment their original businesses.
Brexit made it worse
Then the “benefits of Brexit” and related issues started to kick in.
Previously reliable, just in time deliveries of essential fresh ingredients have stopped arriving when scheduled. Producers are now having to source back-up alternatives from more expensive suppliers, and even arrange to collect if necessary. Lead times for packaging have extended dramatically and prices are rising.
Vacancies for suitably qualified staff for roles in meat processing, deliveries, kitchen and front of house duties, previously occupied by our friends from the EU, have become impossible to fill. Energy costs for business are skyrocketing. Customers in the EU and Northern Ireland can no longer be serviced due to additional costs and cross-border bureaucracy. The inability to find a courier to make a guaranteed next day delivery to the Isle of Wight is yet another example of the ever-mounting problems producers are now facing.
Small food producers are now fighting fires on a daily basis just to stay viable. All these, together with reduced options on logistical solutions and fuel availability issues, could potentially kill off the very businesses that managed to survive the Covid lockdowns. It means options to develop their businesses for future growth are becoming increasingly restricted.
Keeping things going through two overlapping crises has sorely tested the ingenuity of entrepreneurs in the food industry. Many have managed. Some, sadly, have not. These challenges are far from over. Who knows what other issues may be just around the corner?