If 2020 was all about supply and demand, what does 2021 have in store for the food equipment industry? asks Paul Empson, General Manager of Bakers Basco
This time last year, none of us could have predicted what 2020 would end up throwing at us; not just the major impact it would have on our daily personal lives but for our businesses too. There are very few industries not to have felt a knock-on effect from the pandemic, one that is likely to be felt well into the coming months and even years ahead.
When the first lockdown hit back in March 2020, the food industry in particular was put under intense pressure to ensure that the nation had access to essential supplies. This was no mean feat, but if we are to take one positive from 2020, supermarkets managed to close out 2020 on a high. December proved to be the busiest month ever for British supermarkets, with customers spending £11.7bn on take-home food and drink, according to Kantar data, bolstered by the closure of restaurants, bars and pubs. On December 21st alone, 15 million households hit the grocery aisles!
But we must remember at various points throughout the year how all this uncertainty, extra pressure and increased demand affected the supply chains working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that supermarket shelves remained stocked. This was felt across all corners of the food industry, including the bakery industry which at one point we thought was facing a very real risk of demand outstripping supply due to extreme panic buying amongst consumers, added to unexpected staff and driver shortages as a result of the pandemic.
This meant that we had to react and adapt accordingly. To address these challenges and meet demand, Bakers Basco purchased and added more equipment (including bread baskets and dollies) than we would usually need for that time of year into the system at the beginning of the pandemic to ensure bakers had access to the correct equipment to move their products around in. And I’m sure if I were to pick out any other equipment supplier across the food and drink industry, they would have a similar story to tell.
At that time and during other peak periods throughout the pandemic, that approach was deemed necessary but in such an unprecedented year, many businesses will now find themselves in a position where they have more equipment than they generally need. And the question is, what should they do with it? Well, if 2020 taught us anything, we just don’t know what’s around the corner and must be prepared for a worst case scenario.
Repurchasing strategies are set to look quite different IN 2021. The uplift in the amount of equipment that was required back then has surely left many businesses in a position where they have more kit than they would usually require at this time of year, which we hope will be a steady return to “normality”.
And we have to consider the huge environmental impact this will have. Plastic bread baskets are one thing, but consider all the other plastic crates, metal roll cages or wooden pallets; key pieces of equipment used in the supply chain to move food and drink supplies back and forth to supermarkets across the country on a daily basis. In a pre-Covid world, positive steps were being taken across the industry to reduce the environmental impact of what we do. We can’t undo all this hard work now.
Fast forward to today and there’s all sorts of new types of throwaway plastic and other materials being used, for example, by pubs and restaurants (whose doors continue to remain firmly shut for the foreseeable) as they branch out their offering into takeaways, looking for new ways to keep their businesses alive. This puts even more pressure on us, a collective industry, to ensure that the environment doesn’t suffer as a result of what has gone on over the past 10 months.
The right kind of plastic products, used and managed responsibly and in the right way, can majorly contribute to solving the plastic problem, while helping companies cut costs and improve margins through their use in the ‘circular economy’. That means keeping hold of what you have and managing it responsibly.
We might be kicking off 2021 with a slightly more positive outlook on what’s ahead, but we still just don’t know what’s around the corner. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to be agile, ready and prepared to adapt to whatever the next few months throws at us. Maintaining the extra equipment you may have (bearing in mind that this won’t be a “normal” year just yet) will not only leave you in a stronger position should the worst happen again, but you’ll also be making a positive contribution in the fight to help save the environment.