Are Food Suppliers and Retailers Ready for the Post-Pandemic Future of Work?

Are Food Suppliers and Retailers Ready for the Post-Pandemic Future of Work?

For food suppliers and retailers, the pandemic has shifted the landscape of their workplaces, and those that don’t adapt may fall behind.

Due to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, where and how people work in the food and beverage industry are evolving. According to a recent report by Deloitte and FMI-The Food Industry Association (FMI), the industry is already looking ahead and planning for its next steps in the evolving post-pandemic workplace.

The report, entitled “Future of work: The state of the food industry,” outlines conclusions from 150 surveys and 15 interviews with food industry leaders. Here are some of the key findings.

How Work is Shifting for Suppliers and Retailers

While most, if not all, food suppliers remained open throughout the pandemic, nearly 50 percent of their workplace roles changed due to evolving demands from retailers. Without anywhere else to turn, retailers relied on their suppliers to solve emerging supply chain challenges. And suppliers responded, altering packaging and shipping logistics to accommodate changing consumer purchasing behaviors, especially given the rise of e-commerce purchases. 

Other factors that influenced change for suppliers include increased at-home consumption (48 percent) and margin pressure (46 percent). These influences prompted them to shift more of their foodservice supply toward retailers and find ways to deal with increasing costs.

For retailers, consumer preferences drove even more change for which most were not prepared. The top three drivers for change in retail settings include online shopping on the store/website app (48 percent), evolving customer service demand (46 percent) and curbside and/or in-store pickup (32 percent).

Related: What America’s Food Monopolies Mean for Producers and Small Businesses

Predicting and Hiring for the Future

While the future of the pandemic is uncertain, many food retailers and suppliers are adapting and changing their practices in order to prepare for what’s to come. However, only around 40 percent of the suppliers surveyed said they had a clear vision of how work in the food and beverage industry will evolve within the next few years.

Retailers, on the other hand, had far more clarity of vision for the future, landing about 20 percent ahead of suppliers. Due to what they have experienced over the pandemic, retailers were able to witness firsthand whether shopping trends like e-commerce would become important to their future and plan accordingly.    

In order to prepare for the future of work, some suppliers and retailers have made investments toward individual initiatives. However, only about 11 percent of suppliers have made significant investments, while more than half have invested moderately and around a third have made limited investments. Lack of investments can be attributed to “too many competing priorities” for them to put aside a large number of resources.

In terms of hiring, around 70 percent of food executives surveyed considered talent and HR leadership to be key for their future work initiatives. But while their current workforce may be here for the long haul, talent acquisition and retention remain an ongoing struggle. For 45 percent of product suppliers, retaining talent and driving company culture were the top workforce challenges. Attracting employees with emerging, high-demand skill sets was another challenge for 36 percent of respondents.

Next Steps 

Food companies that aren’t already taking significant strides to ready themselves for the future of work may fall behind those that are. Deloitte and FMI recommend that companies put workers at the center of their planning and make investments a top priority. And while planning for the future is key, the sooner companies get started, the report notes, the bigger payoff will be.

The success in the future of work will take a collaborative effort due to the food system’s complex network of manufacturers, packaging companies, food suppliers and retailers. Their best hope for tackling current and future challenges is doing so together.