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Seven challenges food industry can expect in 2021

23 Feb 2021

The year 2020 has been particularly tough for the food industry. The need for coping with increased demand along with restrictions on manufacturing and regulation processes made life very difficult for those in the supply chain. Into 2021, there are a few inevitable challenges and trends that the food industry will have to face this year. Here’s a food forecast, provided by New Food magazine, that includes seven challenges:

1. Upholding safety standards

The world has been living with Coronavirus through most of 2020, and, unfortunately, the pandemic shows little sign of abating, especially in the early months of 2021. Ensuring that safety standards are upheld in the industry is crucial to maintaining the high level of trust that consumers have in food manufacturers presently. This includes making sure that both the food on our plates is safe to eat and that the people who made it are looked after too.

Food manufacturing is one of those sectors where it is not possible to work from home – you can’t package meat over Microsoft Teams, after all. Keeping workers safe and restoring confidence in the workforce that their manufacturing facility is a secure environment will continue to be key for companies throughout 2021. 

2. Keeping sustainability on the front burner

With the vaccine now available, it looks as though the COVID-19 crisis will come to an end at some point during 2021. However, the climate crisis is not going anywhere. While sustainability issues within the food industry have somewhat understandably taken a back seat, it’s crucial that they are brought back to the fore soon. In particular, progress made on eliminating single use plastics from the industry has taken a few steps backwards.

Reusable cups, so heralded in the fight against plastic waste, were banned from coffee shops back in March. But plastic wrapping has crept back, driven by consumer worries over virus contamination – one only has to visit the supermarket to see the sea of plastic snuggled around our fruit and vegetables. Even things like Perspex screens, which are now found in many restaurants around the world, contribute to the problem. It is vital that the industry puts sustainability back to the top of the priority list next year, lest years of good work be undone.

Similarly, 2021 could also be the year when the massive issue of food waste gets some much-needed light shed upon it.

3. Dealing with constant shutdowns

Restaurants have perhaps had to adapt the most during 2020, with many forced to transform from a bustling dining room into a takeaway overnight. This has raised particular concerns when it comes to providing sufficient allergen information to customers.

Quite simply, there is not that safety net of physical interaction to double check that a certain dish does not contain nuts, for example. The FSA has told businesses offering a takeaway service that they must provide allergen information when taking an order. This can be done in print online, or orally over the phone. Similarly, the Chartered Institute of Envirobnmental Healthsaid takeaway food packaging should display all of the relevant allergen information on it.

Businesses will have to continue to ensure that their customers get the necessary allergen information to keep them safe, no matter whether they are sat at a restaurant table or in front of their television.

4. Food fraud

Aside from the fairly obvious supply and logistics issues the pandemic has presented, the conditions brewed by COVID-19 gave (and still is giving) ample opportunity for food criminals. A surge in demand coupled with economic downturn for some meant the priority was getting food on shelves and tables as cheaply as possible, opening the door for disingenuous operators to move in. The desire for cheap food isn’t going anywhere, especially as we look to be just getting started when it comes to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this desire remains, food crime will continue. It is up to the industry to devise methods to combat a problem which threatens to derail trust in certain products.

5. Plant-based marches on

The last few years have seen a marked increase in the amount of people opting for at least a partial plant-based diet, and this rise is showing little sign of slowing down. Mike Wystrach, Founder and CEO of Freshly (a prepared meals provider) sees a slight shift in terms of whether consumers opt to go fully plant-based in their diet or not. He said, “2020 showed us that consumers are interested in trying and buying more plant-based foods, as sales of foods like plant-based proteins and milks topped US$3.3bn over the past year.

“In 2021, I expect that consumers will continue to place more of an emphasis on maintaining a ‘plant-forward’ diet, instead of following a strict plant-based one. We will see more people opt for the age-old option of following plant-based eating principles, versus going completely vegetarian or vegan to fuel active lifestyles, support weight loss, or achieve other health and fitness related ambitions at home.”

6. Artisan merchandise to develop

As lockdowns spill over into 2021, many people have started turning to artisan meals. With little or nothing to do, besides eat and store, artisan producers might see 2021 as their massive year, as shoppers search to fill the restaurant-shaped gap of their life.

Whereas shopper demand for craft and artisanal meals has steadily elevated over the previous years, an accelerated progress is expected into 2021 as shoppers search to brighten up their pandemic pantries with genuine elements and hand-crafted meals. Although some individuals might not really feel snug consuming in any kind of restaurant setting, they’ll nonetheless need to recreate these genuine meals experiences at their dwelling. There is a chance for manufacturers to extend manufacturing on this sector to fulfill altering shopper tastes and preferences.

7. Digital acceleration – more to come

This pandemic era has taught us many things and amidst all the negatives there have been positive change and a newfound appreciation for some things (such as our food sector) too. It has also accelerated certain trends which were undoubtedly coming to the fore…albeit much slower. As the globe continues to gripple with the challenges of COVID-19,  the digital era has never been more appreciated or needed.


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