Sarah Louise Fairburn is the Brand and Sales Director at Fairburns Eggs and Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP’s Food Board.
Lincolnshire has always played a key role in feeding the nation, and never has this been more as vital than it is now. The COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on the importance of Britain’s agriculture and food industry, and our county, which produces one-eighth of England’s food, has been taking centre stage.
With panic buying, the closure of restaurants and the hospitality sector, and a boom in cooking in the home, the dynamics changed almost overnight, putting massive pressure on supply chains and food production.
This was quickly evident in my own sector, the egg industry. We saw a huge demand for eggs – there’s no substitute product for an egg – with a sharp rise in home baking, families turning to eggs as a cheap form of protein, and many more people having time for cooked breakfasts instead of their normal rushed bowl of cereal before the commute or school run.
I’m proud to say our business has shown great resilience through the pandemic – we quickly introduced social distancing, PPE and temperature checks for staff, plus home working where possible. Egg supplies are now stabilising and the egg sector as a whole is working at getting new flocks on the ground. It understands it has to take a longer view and allow for future, potential pandemic spikes, but like other sectors it has to manage the risk of adding increased costs to the supply chain.
It is at times like this that we really appreciate how important our loyal producer base is, as well as close, honest relationships with customers, who in our case are the major retailers.
So, what would my advice be for others in the food industry for the future?
- Think carefully about the sectors you supply into. Those supplying solely to the hospitality sector have obviously been hugely affected by this terrible pandemic, so should you look at new chains for supply and routes to market?
- E-commerce is proving even more important than it had in a pre-Covid world. Consumer-facing businesses who hadn’t already cottoned onto the benefits have learnt fast that an e-commerce capability is vital and could make the difference between make or break.
- This could be time to start having discussions with your customers about realistic prices, to reflect the higher costs you’ve been having to bear.
- Meal occasions at home – if you can’t eat out as often, people will be looking to replicate the experience in their own homes, with high-quality food and easy-to-prepare meal ingredients. This is a big opportunity for the food sector.
- Crisis management planning – learn from the mistakes you have made as a business during this pandemic and identify what processes you need to change if something like this happens again. What opportunities did you miss and how can you speed up decision making?
So, my message for the food industry in the Greater Lincolnshire area is to adapt, innovate, find new routes to market and – to quote a saying from my own sector – avoid having all your eggs in one basket!