What have we learnt from 2020?
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It has been a challenging year.  Yes, many businesses heavily reliant on Take Home Grocery have seen sales surge, unlike those more exposed to Foodservice and On The Go.  But we have all had to face major changes in how our businesses work and how we work as individuals.

 

So from all that pain, change and effort of 2020, what have we learnt?  Here are three things.

 

First, our industry is more important than we may have fully appreciated.  When you think about it, our purpose is obvious.  We are here to help the public put good meals on the table, and to equip themselves with home care, personal care and basic healthcare.  This year, as we saw many colleagues (from farms, factories, distribution centres, lorries and stores) classified as key workers, it became super clear just how important our industry is.  It is critical to the country, and that is something to be proud of. 

 

Second, we can be more agile than we may have thought.  Our industry and our people are known for efficiency, hard work and dedication.  But perhaps we haven’t been the most agile and creative compared to other industries, like Foodservice or Technology.  But when push has come to shove, we have found that we can be lighter on our feet than perhaps we knew.  Supermarkets transforming online capability and making their stores safer almost overnight.  Suppliers rapidly adjusting to a new mix, including big spikes in demand.  There have been plenty of crisis moments in our supply chains especially in fresh food production sites, but at the end of the day, the great majority of shoppers have been able to get what they need, the great majority of the time.  I’m sure it hasn’t been seamless, but even to someone inside the industry, it has seemed very well managed and very efficiently delivered.  That is some achievement. 

 

Third, despite all the giddying change, the fundamental principles of success in our industry have held strong.  Consumers still need food that is easy to prepare, wholesome, exciting and sustainable.  Shoppers need products, brands and categories that are instantly recognisable, easy to process, obviously helpful and good value.  The relative importance of these different “levers” may dial up or down a bit in a pandemic, but they all remain critical.  Many of us spent a lot of time thinking about what Covid changed and rightly so.  But even in this most unusual of years, most of the time, the right answer and courses of action did not change.

 

So as we approach 2021, business life is unlikely to get much easier.  We have to work our way out of the Virus, and through a difficult recession.  At least we can do so knowing we work in an industry that really matters, we have the ability to be agile and we can be guided by some enduring principles of success.  Let’s hope it is a decent New Year. 

Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies.  He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.