On Day 2 of the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, FMI President Leslie Sarasin offered a holistic perspective on where the food industry stands as a new normal emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic—and where it can go from here.
When COVID-19 hit, grocers nationwide rushed to roll out protocols and policies to help keep their employees and customers safe—often with little to no state and local guidance—and they quickly amped up efforts in delivery and pickup, all the while keeping their communities fed.
“We’ve learned in the past 10 months that we can move relatively fast and furiously,” Sarasin said, adding that the food industry is “uniquely positioned” to write this new path going forward.
For all grocers, Sarasin said, this means continuing to act as community leaders and not letting guards down as vaccines begin to roll out, and for those with pharmacies, it means playing a role in administrating the vaccine.
“We aren’t out of the woods yet,” she said.
COVID-19 also shone a light on some of the industry’s wrinkles, including product outages and supply flow.
Meat, toilet paper and cleaning supplies were just some of the hard-to-find items early in the pandemic as consumers panic-bought and stripped shelves bare. Sarasin said helping consumers understand how the supply chain works, as well as why outages occur, will only help if grocers are ever in this situation again.
She also said the path forward “calls for stronger bonds between and among trading partners.”
On the shopper front, COVID boosted the food as medicine movement and imparted a renewed interest in home cooking—and that sometimes goes hand in hand.
“People have learned it makes more sense economically, emotionally and nutritionally [to cook at home,” said Sarasin, who expects these new habits to continue. “In some ways, the pandemic turned back the food industry clock 50 years, when shoppers cooked at home more, stocked up more.”
“COVID-19 has challenged us, but it has also provided us with the opportunity to show our mettle, and we have done exceptionally well,” Sarasin continued.