Tag Archives: pandemic

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 6 Preview: Sanitation Issues

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

The integration of sanitation is a critical part of the food manufacturing process. This week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will focus on effective approaches, best practices and lessons learned. The following are some highlights:

  • Sanitation Methods, Day-to-Day Operations and Applying It to a Pandemic (Now and Future Outbreaks), with Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions; David Shelep, Paramount Sciences; and Bill Leverich, Microbiologics, Inc.
  • The Critical Nature of a Good Environmental Program: The Story Behind Sabra’s Recall, Experience with the FDA, and Environmental Monitoring Journey, with Rob Mommsen, Sabra Dipping Company
  • Surrogates & Emerging Applications: Their Role in Validation, Verification and Compliance, with Laure Pujol, Ph.D. and Vidya Ananth, Novolyze
  • Tech Talks from Sterilex and Romer Labs

The event begins at 12 pm ET. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to 14 episodes of critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Mikael Bengtsson, Infor

As COVID-19 Stresses Food Suppliers, Technology Steps In

By Maria Fontanazza
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Mikael Bengtsson, Infor

The theme of better traceability and more transparency is a theme that will only grow stronger in the food industry. Just last week we heard FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas talk about the agency’s recently proposed FSMA rule on food traceability during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Mikael Bengtsson, industry & solution strategy director for food & beverage at Infor, explains yet another role that technology can play in helping companies maintain agility during changes that affect the supply chain such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Food Safety Tech: How can food suppliers mitigate the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and with limited resources?

Mikael Bengtsson: Food safety must always be a top priority for any food and beverage company. The risks associated with contamination can have a severe impact for public health, brand and company reputation. Safety routines are therefore always of the highest priority. In today’s situation with COVID-19, the stress on safety is further increased. Now, it’s not only about keeping products safe but also keeping employees healthy. One progression and resource that all food suppliers must follow is the FDA [FSMA rules], which require suppliers to be diligent and document their compliance. Especially now, while suppliers are faced with limited resources and additional stress during the pandemic, they must rely on the basics—ensuring masks are worn in and out of the workplace, washing hands for at least 20 seconds prior to touching any food, and remaining six feet apart from co-workers. When it comes to a crisis like COVID, take solace in knowing suppliers can rely on the basics—even when conditions are strained.

This year we have seen many companies having to adapt and change quickly. Demand has shifted between products, ingredients have been in shortage and many employees have had to work from home. Some were better prepared than others in adapting to the new situation. Technology plays a big role when it comes to agility. Regarding food safety, there are many proactive measures to be taken. The industry leaders establish transparency in their supply chain both upstream and downstream, use big data analysis to identify inefficiencies, as well as couple IoT with asset management systems to foresee issues before they happen.

FST: How can technology help suppliers meet the growing consumer demand for transparency in an end-to-end supply chain and improve consumer trust?

Mikael Bengtsson, Infor
Mikael Bengtsson, industry & solution strategy director for food & beverage at Infor

Bengtsson: Communication with consumers is changing. It is not only about marketing products, but also to educate and interact with consumers. This requires a different approach. Of course, consumers are loyal to brands, but are also tempted to try something new when grocery shopping. After a new study is published or a new story is written, consumers are likely to shift their shopping preferences.

It is therefore important to build a closer connection with consumers. Companies who have full supply chain visibility, transparency and traceability have detailed stories to tell their consumers. One way they can build these stories is by including QR codes on their packages. The consumer can then easily scan the code and be brought to a website that shows more product details—e.g. who was the farmer, how were the animals cared for and what sustainability efforts were involved. These are all important aspects to build consumer trust. According to researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management, investing in supply chain visibility is the optimal way to gain consumer trust, and can lead to increased sales.

FST: What technologies should suppliers leverage to better collaborate with trading partners and ensure consistent food safety procedures?

Bengtsson: When a food safety problem arises, batches, lots, and shipments need to be identified within minutes. Manufacturers must be able to trace all aspects of products throughout the entire supply chain—with complete visibility at the ingredient level—from farm to table, and everything in-between. An efficient and transparent food supply chain requires extensive collaboration and coordination between stakeholders. New technologies can extend both amount of collaboration possibilities and the impact of those collaborations. In order to maintain a transparent, efficient food supply chain, companies need to invest in modern cloud-based ERP and supply chain systems that incorporate the increased visibility of the Internet of Things (IoT) with data sharing, supplier and customer portals, and direct links between systems—all aimed at facilitating joint awareness and coordinated decision-making. Modern technologies that enable transparency will also have the added benefits of meeting consumer demand for product information, identifying and responding to food safety issues, reducing food waste, and supporting sustainability claims.

Checklist

2020 FSC Episode 4 Wrap: FDA: There’s a Strong Business and Public Health Case for Better Traceability

By Maria Fontanazza
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Checklist

One year ago the FDA held an at-capacity public meeting to discuss its latest initiative, the New Era of Smarter Food Safety. At the time, the agency was planning to release the blueprint for the New Era in the spring of 2020. In fact, the FDA was just days away from unveiling it when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. The blueprint was put aside and it was all hands on deck, as the agency worked with the food industry to ensure companies continued operating, as they were deemed a part of America’s critical infrastructure. From there, the agency navigated through uncharted waters with the food industry and its stakeholders. It signed an MOU with USDA in an effort to prevent disruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities and address shortages of PPE, disinfection and sanitation supplies. It announced that it would conduct remote inspections and extended the comment period for the Laboratory Accreditation Program Proposed Rule. It released a COVID-19 food safety checklist with OSHA to help guide companies through employee health, social distancing, and the operational issues that have entered into play as a result of the pandemic. Food companies and the supply chain were facing an enormous challenge.

“I always thought we had one of the best food systems in the world… by and large we have an amazing food system,” said Frank Yiannas deputy commissioner for food policy and response during last week’s keynote address at the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. “We just experienced the biggest test on the food system in 100 years. Have we passed the test? I don’t think anyone would say we scored 100%… but by and large we passed the test.” Yiannas added that COVID-19 has exposed some strengths and weaknesses in the food system as well. He also emphasized a point that he has been driving home throughout the pandemic: “The virus that causes COVID-19 is not a virus that is transmitted by food. It is a respiratory virus and generally transmitted in very different ways.”

The FDA released the blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, which incorporated some lessons learned from COVID-19, in July. Traceability is a big part of agency’s new era initiative, and the pandemic further put a spotlight on the need for better tracking and tracing in the food industry. And under FSMA, FDA is required to “establish a system that will enhance its ability to track and trace both domestic and imported foods”. In working to meet this requirement, FDA proposed the FSMA rule on food traceability last month.

Yiannas said the proposed rule has the potential to lay the foundation for meaningful harmonization and called aspects of the proposed rule game changing. It establishes two critical components that are the leading edge of food traceability: It defines critical tracking events (i.e., what are the types of events in the food system that required those events to be kept) and key data elements (i.e., the data elements that must be captured at those critical tracking events). “These two things are big ideas for traceability,” said Yiannas. “They will allow us to harmonize how traceability is to be done, allow us to scale and allow for greater interoperability.” The proposed rule also creates a traceability list that identifies foods based on a risk-ranking model for food tracing.

FDA is encouraging comments on the proposed rule and is holding three meetings (November 6, November 18 and December 2) to discuss the proposed traceability rule. “We are going to create the final rule together,” said Yiannas.

Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to 14 episodes of critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Jill Henry, Essity
FST Soapbox

The New Hygiene Standard: Building Trust Through Employee Safety

By Jill Henry
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Jill Henry, Essity

The pandemic has heightened the need for a new hygiene standard at food manufacturing sites. On August 19, OSHA and FDA released a health and hygiene checklist for food manufacturers to increase employee safety and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at sites. This checklist reinforces the importance of elevating hygiene standards, but it can be difficult to know where to start—especially for food manufacturers aiming to maintain productivity while maximizing hygiene compliance and safety.

For food manufacturers seeking to navigate OSHA and FDA’s new guide, it’s important to remember that no matter the environment, the basics of hygiene remain true. You can kick-start your updated hygiene plan by implementing simple hygiene best practices and establishing comprehensive and clear protocols to achieve compliance on the road ahead. Remember, employee health and productivity begins with a safety-first mindset. Start by establishing a strong foundation with these tips that will help you maintain your food manufacturing site’s hygiene checklist amid COVID-19 and beyond.

Achieve Hand Hygiene Compliance

Hands are the most exposed part of the body to pathogens. Therefore, hand hygiene is considered one of the most important and effective measures to avoid the transmission of harmful pathogens, viruses and diseases. Given this, consistent and proper handwashing is a fundamental aspect of any hygiene plan, especially in food manufacturing sites where employees frequently touch common surfaces (e.g., door handles, technical equipment, etc.) . People often (and unknowingly) touch their eyes, nose and mouth after touching contaminated surfaces, which contributes to potential transmission.

Hand hygiene is proven to be a primary line of defense in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, but only when conducted properly. To maintain hand hygiene compliance, the CDC advises that employees thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, under warm or cold water for at least 20 seconds, before properly drying their hands with a paper towel. All too often, people forget the importance of hand drying in the handwashing process, but it’s very significant as hand drying can help remove any remaining germs from the skin. In addition, germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands, which makes hand drying critical after a thorough handwashing.

Utilize Signage as Visual Cues

While many are familiar with the importance of hand hygiene, it can be difficult to put into practice when employees are busy on the job and forging ahead on production lines. Keep hand hygiene top of mind by utilizing visual cues, such as signage, to remind employees about when, where and how to wash their hands properly. Signage serves as visual reminders to achieve proper hand hygiene compliance and is an important part of establishing a site’s hygiene standard and foundation.

Opt for signage that includes a direct call to action for employees. Using the word “you” can also increase efficacy by calling directly upon the person reading the sign to participate in hand hygiene compliance. Additionally, signage should be updated frequently to keep employees engaged and hand hygiene top of mind. New and fresh reminders on the importance of handwashing will help keep employees attentive, but if you don’t have the time or resources to continually update on-site signage, leverage free tools available online to help you get started.

Establish Surface Cleaning Protocols without Sacrificing Productivity

COVID-19 can spread from surface-to-person contact. This can happen when an employee carrying the virus touches technical equipment on a production line that is not properly wiped down before the next employee’s shift. With this in mind, it’s critical to establish effective surface cleaning protocols that mitigate instances of cross-contamination and don’t create downtime in production or processing.

To create an efficient surface hygiene plan, assess high-touch areas, and develop a list based on where you observe high-touch surfaces to ensure these areas are properly sanitized ahead of shift changes. Provide employees with the surface cleaning checklist that enables them to effectively sanitize surfaces prior to departing their shift. The checklist should include key areas that must be disinfected, as well as tips to properly disinfect surfaces.

When disinfecting surfaces, use an approved disinfectant and a disposable cloth, which ensures the surface is being wiped down with a non-contaminated wiper each time. If using an alcohol-based product, use one with a minimum of 70% alcohol (i.e., Ethanol or Isopropyl alcohol), and always follow the manufacturer’s application guidelines.

Optimize Sanitization Stations and Dispenser Placement
Think strategically and practically about dispenser placement in food manufacturing sites because where sanitizer dispensers are placed makes a difference in whether they are used by employees. Similar to establishing surface cleaning protocols, start by observing where high-traffic areas are on site, and consider critical entry and exit points that would benefit from a dispenser. Dispensers should also be placed in clear view, so they are easily accessible for employees. Consider pairing signage with dispensers as a helpful reminder to utilize these stations and provide instruction on best practices to sanitize effectively.

Optimizing dispenser placement doesn’t stop with implementation. Once dispensers are in place, continue to monitor where dispensers are most frequently used, and assess other areas prime for dispensers. Remember: Employee hygiene and safety is a priority, and optimally placing dispensers and hygiene solutions where they are needed to encourage use is key to creating a safer environment. Place dispensers in areas such as common spaces, near production lines, in locker rooms, and at entrances and exits in order to encourage regular surface cleaning and hand washing. Flexible mounting solutions and portable solutions can facilitate access in harsher environments. The availability of hygiene products encourages their use, so be sure to keep dispensers fully stocked.

Promote Awareness among Employees and Instill Confidence

It’s more important than ever to build employee trust and confidence. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Communicate frequently with employees and distribute guidelines around COVID-19 so that they understand the measures being introduced and how you will continually monitor your environment. Consider implementing COVID-19-specific training and education sessions that empower employees to ask questions about hygiene and safety measures on site, and provide essential instruction on COVID-19 and what to do if a case is confirmed among employees. These sessions can also be used to provide further education and emphasis on how individuals can maintain hygiene compliance for the greater good of the manufacturing site and their colleagues.

In the current environment, it’s clear that food manufacturers must secure a new hygiene standard to maintain employee health and safety and continue to deliver essential products. But with ongoing shifts, changes and uncertainty, it can be challenging to juggle operations and hygiene compliance—while instilling trust and confidence among employees. Whether a site is continuing, resuming or re-evaluating operations amid the current pandemic, it is critical to maintain a strong foundation for hygiene, so that employees are safe and essential production moves ahead.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 5 Preview: Food Labs

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

This week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series promises to be an insightful discussion on topics critical to food laboratories. The following are some highlights:

  • Developing Your Technology During a Pandemic/COVID Testing Food, with Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., Eurofins
  • Viral Landscape of Testing, with Vik Dutta, bioMérieux; Prasant Prusty, Pathogenia, Inc.; Efi Papafragkou, Ph.D., FDA; and Erin Crowley, Q Laboratories
  • The FSMA Proposed Rule on Laboratory Accreditation and the Impacts on Labs and Lab Data Users, with Douglas Leonard, ANAB
  • Tech Talk from PathogenDX

The event begins at 12 pm ET. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to 14 episodes of critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 4 Preview: FDA’s Frank Yiannas to Discuss Proposed FSMA Traceability Rule, Updates on New Era of Smarter Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

This week’s keynote episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series features more important conversations about COVID-19 and its impact on the food industry. The event will kick off with a special presentation by FDA’s Frank Yiannas. Highlights include:

  • FDA Keynote Address by Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response
  • COVID-19 Lessons Learned Panel Discussion with Mitzi Baum, STOP Foodborne Illness; Stephanie Dragatsis, Feeding America; Carletta Ooten, Amazon; Spir Marinakis, Maple Leaf Foods; and Craig Wilson, Costco Wholesale
  • Rumor vs. Reality: How to Cope with the Trends of Food Safety During a Pandemic, with Ge Song, Benjamin L. England & Associates, LLC
  • Tech Talk by sponsor Rizepoint and program partner AOAC

We invite you to join us for another lively discussion. The event begins at 12 pm ET on October, 1. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to 14 episodes of critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Frank Yiannas, FDA, Rick Biros, Innovative Publishing, Food Safety Tech, Food Safety Consortium
Although there will be no physical handshaking this year, Frank Yiannas, deputy commission for food policy and response at FDA (left), will join Rick Biros, president of the Food Safety Consortium, for this year’s Virtual Conference Series on October 1. (Photo credit: amyBcreative)
Tom Gosselin, DNV GL
FST Soapbox

Time to Get More Value From Social Audits

By Tom Gosselin
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Tom Gosselin, DNV GL

If global supply chains were considered complex before COVID-19, it’s hard to imagine what we’d call them now. Is there a single business operating exactly as it did before the pandemic?

All the more surprising, when survival would seem to be the top priority, pre-pandemic risk factors are not only alive and well, but they also actually outweigh coronavirus as strategic business concerns. In fact, COVID-19 didn’t even make the top five risk factors in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Risk Report.

In its analysis of the WEF report, consulting firm Ernst and Young stated the following:

“While the risk of a pandemic was noted as important in the report, and something for which we are unprepared globally, it was not identified as one of the top five risks in terms of likelihood or impact in the 2020 survey. High-impact and highly probable risks, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and water crises, are just as present now as they were before the pandemic started . . .”

In our experience, some pre-pandemic business trends have actually gone from “warm and fuzzy” to red hot in spite of, or perhaps even due to, the COVID chaos. One prime example is in the case of social audits.

Social audits have been increasingly used over the past decade to evaluate corporate social responsibility and, indeed, the ethical conduct of entire supply chains. We’ve worked extensively with some of the biggest names in consumer electronics to conduct hundreds of social audits among component suppliers of all sizes. These assessments are mandatory, not by law, but by business policy. The vast scope reflects the importance—and business value—of operational factors that go beyond pure economics, whether it’s related to labor practices, health and safety, or environment.

A growing number of organizations strongly believe that social responsibility and profits are not mutually exclusive; they are in fact enablers of one another—but only if you commit to mining the full value of these programs. Think of it like data mining. Within any large body of information, you can almost always find hidden value. If you know how to look and have the proper tools. In the case of social auditing, the tools are the insights and methods employed by the auditing teams.

This is such a vital concept that we have designed its social auditing process to exceed even what the Responsible Business Alliance requires in its code of conduct. As a baseline, like every other auditor, we first look for nonconformities, which are the most serious issues requiring immediate attention. We also report “observations”, a second level of findings that speaks to things that are suboptimal but are not out of compliance, per se. That’s where it usually stops. This is the mentality of fault finding. And it has defined social auditing for a long time.

We can, and do, break that mold. Taking another critical step to ask, “what’s going right?”, provides an extra level of inquiry that probes for opportunities embedded in the fabric of the way things work. It could be an unrecognized best practice, something that people have been doing but nobody took the time, or had the awareness, to document and share. Often times, it’s something frontline workers have done as a response to an unexpected development, like a pandemic that makes you work from home.

In one service-based organization, we found that the sudden shift to working from home led to an unwelcomed rise in cases of domestic violence. We discovered this during audits of pay rates and working hours. The company was able to develop an innovative response, establishing a framework of verbal signals that workers now use to communicate stress or threat. In another instance, while auditing a large industrial company for workplace safety, we found that employees were using a shortcut to avoid a required safety measure. By probing and asking questions in a non-accusatory way, those same workers recommended a very simple workaround to the workaround—thereby restoring the safety measure without adding complexity to the task.

The key to all of this is mindset. Not just ours (the auditors), but the client organization’s as well. You must be willing to broaden the very idea of “compliance.” Sometimes, things that are out of spec are that way for a reason. Rather than lump every outlier as a flaw, you should look beneath the surface and see if there’s a good reason for it. That doesn’t automatically mean nonconformities are suddenly something else. But if you are only looking for problems, that’s all you’re going to find.

Checklist

2020 FSC Episode 3 Wrap: Does Your Company Have a COVID Czar?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Checklist

Navigating the murky waters that COVID-19 presents has been no easy task for food companies. Being part of America’s critical infrastructure has meant that adapting to the pandemic has been unavoidable, and the industry has directly taken on the challenges to ensure the nation has a reliable food supply. But what about the frontline workers, their safety and how this ties into operational continuity as a whole? During last week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, an expert panel discussed the practices that food companies have put in place during the pandemic and offered advice on managing the entire scope of COVID-19 challenges including screening employees and preventing infection transmission, safeguarding workers and the facility, administrative and engineering controls, education and training, and risk management.

“No doubt that it is a concert of controls and interventions that have allowed our industry to effectively combat this over the past several months,” said Sanjay Gummalla, senior vice president of scientific affairs at the American Frozen Foods Institute. “By and large, the industry has taken charge of this situation in a way that could not have been predicted.” Gummalla was joined by Trish Wester, founder of the Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals and Melanie Neumann, executive vice president and general counsel for Matrix Sciences International.

First up, the COVID Czar—what is it and does your company have one? According to Neumann, this is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic. “We’re not trained in people safety—we’re trained in food safety,” said Neumann. “And it’s a lot to ask, especially on top of having to manage food safety.”

Some of the takeaways during the discussion include:

  • Administrative controls that must be managed: Appropriate cleaning, disinfection and sanitation; PPE; employee hygiene; shift management; and surveillance mechanisms
  • PPE: “It’s really clear now that face masks and coverings are critical in managing source control—it prevents the spread and protects other employees,” said Gummalla. “All employees wearing masks present the highest level of protection.” When the attendees were polled about whether face coverings are mandatory where they work, 91% answered ‘yes’.
  • Engineering controls within facility: Physical distancing measures such as plexiglass barriers, six-foot distance markings, traffic movement, limited employees, and hand sanitizer stations. “Engineering controls in a facility involve isolation from the virus,” said Gummalla. “In this case, controlling [and] reducing the exposure to the virus without relying on specific worker behavior. This is where facilities have implemented a great amount of thoughtful intervention, probably at a high capital cost as well.” Companies should also consider airflow management, which can involving bringing in an outside professional with expertise in negative and positive air pressure, advised Wester.
  • Verification activities and enterprise risk management: Neumann emphasized the importance of documentation as well as advising companies to apply a maturity model (similar to a food safety culture maturity model) to a COVID control program. The goal is to ensure that employees are following certain behaviors when no one is watching. “We want to be able to go from ‘told’ to ‘habit’,” she said.
  • Education and training: Using posters, infographics, brochures and videos, all of which are multilingual, to help emphasize that responsibility lies with every employee. “It is important to recognize the transmission is predominately is person to person,” said Gummalla. Do you have a daily huddle? Neumann suggests having a regular dialogue with employees about COVID.
  • The future, 2021 and beyond: Does your company have a contingency, preparedness or recovery plan? “The next six months are going to be critical; in many parts of the world, the worse is not over yet,” said Gummalla. “There will be a lot more innovation in our industry, and communication will be at the heart of all of this.”

Get access to the presentations and points discussed during this exclusive session by registering for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Conference Virtual Series. Attendees will have also access to upcoming sessions as well as the recordings of all sessions.

Mike Owen
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Changing Psychology of Grocery Shoppers

By Mike Owen
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Mike Owen

The grocery sector has always been the bedrock of traditional brick-and-mortar retail, and it is no surprise why. How many people have wanted to check first-hand the ripeness of a tomato or how fresh the lettuce looks? The up-front examination is everything.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a change in the psychology of grocery shoppers. Health guidelines that have encouraged lockdown and working from home have focused the mind of many people on health consciousness with a need to keep financial stability in the throes of unemployment or furlough. Purse strings are tightened, more home cooking and fewer luxuries mean there is no longer a need to buy specialty products when basic provisions can be met at home.

Home Is the HQ

Staying at home has meant larger purchase sizes, which has led to fewer trips to the supermarket, bigger basket/cart size when you get there and an increase in private label purchases. People have also become more conscious of what they are putting in their bodies.

Social distancing has made many consumers resort to online grocery shopping. As long as there is availability, at a right price and an efficient delivery time, consumers are prepared to forego their normal habits for the sake of convenience and time saving. There is also no denying the surge in online purchasing for groceries during the pandemic. Interestingly, the market has seen an exponential increase in conversion in the over-50 age group—a group that may have ordinarily resisted this activity.

Health Concerns Sway More People to Shop Online, Regardless of the Product

According to Accenture, there is expected to be a 160% increase in e-commerce purchases from new and low frequency users. The vast majority of consumers who have increased their use of digital and omnichannel services, such as home delivery, curb-side pickup or shopping via social media platforms, expect to sustain these activities into the future.

The Wunderman Thompson Future Shopper Report 2020 highlights that online shopping—and shopping on Amazon in particular—is a popular choice across most industry sectors (including health and pharmaceutical, entertainment and toys); 30% of those purchasing luxury products and 40% of those buying groceries would never buy these products online. But with lockdown measures still firmly in place for most countries, consumer resolve is likely to be tested, and loyalty to physical stores continues to wane.

Consumers are taking stock of their own concerns in terms of home cooking and shopping for local produce and the process for reducing food waste. They are also taking more time to decide what they will need for food or grocery items, and it is likely that many choices will be made before consumers enter the supermarket, as much of the research is done online for product information.

Research undertaken by Bazaarvoice revealed a 21% increase in online orders in March 2020 versus March 2019, with 41% of respondents stating that they were currently shopping online for things they would ordinarily shop for in-store. By April, they were spending more time and making more purchases online, which pushed groceries out of the number one essential category. This may have been due to people getting used to spending longer periods of time at home, moving past the essential necessity phase, and as a result, product shortages have eased, and different product categories are being prioritized.

Changing Expectations for Greater Online Grocery Shopping Experiences

Every generations’ lives and shopping behaviors are now intertwined with digital commerce. They are driven even more strongly by factors such as range, ease, speed and convenience. Online grocery shopping—both delivery and pickup—is cheaper, reducing the number of trips that keeps shoppers out of stores, where personnel are also at serious risk of infection.

And for retailers, inserting a row of fresh vegetables on websites such as Walmart Grocery or Amazon Fresh to the same grid style as they use to sell laptops or smartphone cases can look clinical and confusing to consumers. Food shoppers want to touch the tomatoes. Slicing the grocery store up into individual, pixelated goods doesn’t feel like grocery shopping anymore.

Relevant Accurate Product Information Is the Key

In an article in The Atlantic, Bryan Leach, CEO of shopping promotions company IBotta, predicts: “Shoppers won’t lose the ability to manipulate the avocados, pick something up on short notice, or just browse aimlessly for meal inspiration”. Retailers will have to up their game to provide improved customer experience in product presentation and selection.

Some online grocery retailers are already providing online menus and the ingredients to cook for specific meals. Internet-grocery fetchers might come to be seen more as the small shopkeepers of the turn of the century, or the community-supported agriculture services that deliver fresh, local goods or provide specialized groceries or services.

By serving optimal E-commerce sites that provide specialized product information either through chatbots, specialized product range and knowledgeable staff will further enhance the experience and value.

Some companies such as Fortuitas and Javelin Group are supporting retail brands to provide more accurate product information to their E-commerce websites with the help of product information management systems. The provision of consistent data in an omnichannel environment means that up-to-date product knowledge and availability can be accessible on an on-going basis leading to better trust and online sales.

While access to marketplaces such as Google, Amazon Fresh and Ocado continues to grow for grocery products during the pandemic, some marketplaces have defined the following tactics to keep customers engaged through the use of product information.

1. Prevent Panic Buying With Product Badging

Brands can bring more responsibility to the shopping process on marketplaces like Amazon, Google and online retailer web catalogues by using product information to discourage panic buying through the addition of social cues. These can have a big impact on how customers view brands and products. Through this product badging, where, for example, you limit the purchase of essential products per user, consumers can shop more responsibly and feel more in touch with the brand as a ‘caring’ provider.

2. Promote Stay at Home

Offer a unique opportunity to improve customer experiences by promoting product categories that are most popular at a given time. Stay at home and work from home lifestyles are presenting new and unique requirements for users. There is a need to create relevant product categories designed for work from home and promote them on your website.

3. Back-in-Stock Notifications/Recommendations for Similar Products

Creating a landing page with relevant recommendations for similar products that other users have purchased can serve as a way to improve customer experience on your website.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the grocery purchasing mentality for purchasers, and it is likely to develop further during the pandemic. It is whether many of these habits are likely to remain post-COVID? What is certain is that increasing accuracy of product information will be key to a continued growth for sales both online and in-store.

Sudip Saha, Future Market Insights
FST Soapbox

Five Trends Defining the Food Industry Post-COVID

By Sudip Saha
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Sudip Saha, Future Market Insights

Food retailers and the entire food and beverage (F&B) industry are now operating very differently than they did some six months ago. The pandemic has brought immense shifts in supply chains, imposed new hazard controls, and—perhaps most importantly—turned consumer preferences upside down.

To accommodate these changes, food manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and others stepped up to innovate and secure the continuity of their services. But now, as many industries begin to drop the notion of ever going back to what once was, it’s time we started thinking about how many of the newly introduced processes will stick around for the long-term.

What will be the main trends defining the food industry as a whole post-COVID?

Learn more about COVID-19 in the food industry, technology and food safety culture during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series  | Episodes run every Thursday through December 17Adopted Habits Aren’t Going Anywhere

The pandemic brought radical changes to our everyday lives, and it’s clear that many of the newly adopted behaviors won’t disappear overnight. Consumers will continue to rely on grocery retailers to keep them both fed and healthy while expecting minimum disruptions and a high respect for safety regulations—both in terms of handling and the state of delivered products.

Take-home grocery sales grew by 17% between April and July, breaking the record for the fastest period of growth since 1994. Online grocery shopping also gained popularity while managing to engage entirely new demographics. Some 10% of baby boomers now say they would buy more groceries online once the pandemic is over—compared to 34% of Gen Xs and 40% of millennials.

Due to consumer hyper-awareness of safety and sanitation, the whole food industry will continue to be defined by safety practices. Sanitizing common surfaces like keyboards, door handles, tables and chairs regularly will remain the norm. Beyond “manual” rules such as the mandatory use of facemasks, requirements such as regular health checks could boost the adoption of technology across the industry—transforming not only customer-facing interactions but also the processes behind the curtain.

Technology as an Enabler

Every crisis sparks innovation, and the food industry has certainly proved this thesis. Technology has become the ultimate aide, enabling interactions that would otherwise be impossible. These include contactless ordering, payments and pickup—processes that are likely to stick around even beyond COVID-19.

At the same time, the pandemic accelerated the usage of innovations that previously struggled to become mainstream. This includes virtual tipping jars or mobile order-and-pay, such as the options introduced by fast-food giants including McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, and Burger King.

There’s an obvious appetite for F&B companies to further incorporate technology. For example, the Coca-Cola Company is rolling out a touchless fountain experience that can be used with a smartphone for contactless pouring. Heineken, on the other hand, turned to virtual tech to launch a new product—a cardboard topper for multipack beer that will eliminate plastic from millions of cans. With travel restrictions hindering the mobility of engineers, the company leveraged virtual technology to install the new machinery needed at its Manchester-based factory.

But it’s not just solitary innovations; the market has already seen new AI-based technologies that help food businesses better manage risk in their workforce. Food manufacturing, distribution and provision require many different touchpoints; by predicting, monitoring and testing the health and safety of the workers involved in these processes, companies can ensure they keep their operations running, even if another wave of COVID-19 hits. Solutions like these will be crucial when looking to add another layer of safety that goes beyond mandatory governmental regulations.

Food Safety Revamped

Even though COVID-19 is transmitted through airborne respiratory droplets, and the risk of contracting the virus through food is low, people around the world are concerned about the possibility. After all, 40% of people are more careful about washing unpackaged fruit and vegetables than before the pandemic.

The pandemic has already made societies rethink various established concepts, such as wet markets or the consumption of wild animals. The pandemic could, therefore, lead to changed behaviors, and newly imposed rules such as formalizing small and micro food enterprises, provisions for direct sales by farmers, leveraging technology to ensure safety, and investments in a more robust food infrastructure altogether.

Such changes could also irreversibly affect street food—a sector that is bound to feel the hit of COVID-19. Particularly in countries with diverse street food culture, one of the emerging trends will be the rise of gourmet street food brands that can provide both great taste and high hygiene standards.

Food Sustainability to the Forefront

2020 will be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems. The pandemic exposed the flaws of the global food supply chain that continues to be highly centralized and operating on a just-in-time basis. This is why we have seen panic food runs, urgent supply shortages and high amounts of food waste as many businesses were shut down overnight. In developing countries, several agencies expect that a “hunger pandemic” and a doubling of people starving could happen unless serious action is taken.

As we rethink the underlying principles of the food industry such as safety and supply, other concepts such as transparency and visibility into product sourcing and manufacturing also come into the spotlight. Consumers across the globe are more likely to prioritize offerings that are healthy and locally sourced than they were before COVID-19.

Food produced with the overuse of chemicals in monoculture cropping systems and large-scale animal farming significantly impact the availability of natural resources and cause substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Added to that, practices like industrial animal farming that operate with large numbers of livestock in confined spaces are a breeding ground for viruses, and have been linked to prior outbreaks such as the outbreak of swine flu in 2009. They also enable the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms due to the common overuse of antibiotics administered to prevent infections caused by cramped living conditions.

Consumers are increasingly aware of this: Nearly 25% of Americans are now eating more plant-based food. As we move forward, diverse food companies are likely to tap into this trend, resulting in great opportunities for plant-based, nutritious, local, and even healthy DIY meals and products. For example, an Australian food producer has recently announced the launch of a new proprietary product range that will offer the first vegan ready-to-drink protein shakes on the Australian market.

A New Way of Dining

The restaurant market has been one of the direct victims of the pandemic but has shown impressive elasticity in adapting to the new realities. Many businesses have introduced service extensions such as deliveries and take-outs, as well as pop-up grocery stores. Enjoying great popularity, some of these options will stick around far beyond the pandemic.

However, there’s a counterforce hindering significant expansion: The simple fact that many consumers discovered a new joy in cooking. A recent study notes that 54% of Americans are now cooking more than they were before the pandemic, with 35% saying that they “enjoy cooking more now than ever.” But at the same time, 33% of consumers say they’re getting more takeout than before the pandemic. This implies that the post-pandemic normal will likely see a shift toward eating at home more often, whether that means cooking or takeout and delivery.

Therefore, restaurants are likely to continue diversifying their services, experiment with food bundles and DIY meal kits, or even luxurious in-home chef visit experiences as an alternative to high-end restaurant dining.

The past crises have shown that economic uncertainty is directly linked to changes in demand for private-label and value brands. After the 2008 financial crisis, 60% of U.S. consumers were more interested in reasonably priced products with core features than in higher-priced, cutting-edge products. So while luxury dining is not completely disappearing, it could take on other aspects.

In Denmark, for example, a two-Michelin star restaurant is moving to serve burgers. In China, a country that many look to as the model for the post-COVID world, there has also been a clear push toward more affordable dining as well. Hot pot and barbecue venues have been thriving, particularly among customers in their 20s and 30s. Many fine dining restaurants, on the other hand, have started offering affordable lunch menus or have cut prices to correspond to the current value-conscious behaviors.

It’s clear that the future of food retail and the F&B industry will be significantly marked by the pandemic. Its prolonged nature will also cause the newly adopted habits to become further solidified—and many processes will adapt to match them. For example, while contactless deliveries were accelerated in the past months, businesses are working hard to make them as efficient as convenient as possible, making it unlikely that such investments would be erased overnight, once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.