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Food supply chain: uncertainty as the new normal

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Publié le vendredi 26 juin 2020

The Luxembourg Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management continued its 'LCL Conversation Series' on the impact of COVID-19 on the supply chains of various economic sectors worldwide with a webinar focusing on Food Supply Chains and Food Safety on 24th of June. Expert speakers from both Luxembourg and the United States presented their diverse and insightful perspectives on the crisis and its aftermath going forward.

Jack Bobo, an American "food futurist" and CEO of Futurity, a food advisory on emerging food trends, addressed the massive uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and the impact on the global economy (GDP growth, employment) as well as on consumer behavior.

Consumers everywhere are now more cautious and have reduced consumption of non-essential goods. In this sense, we need to think of COVID as a "force of nature" with effects much like those brought on by climate change.

Due to the massive lockdowns to prevent spread of the virus, an acceleration of online shopping, grocery delivery, and food delivery services occurred in the U.S.; at the same time, confinement encouraged health and wellness trends and investments in tools to be able to remote-work from home.

In parallel, a deceleration effect occurred in terms of value mindset - people's now measuring the value of eating out and traveling, due to the density-risks involved. While global hunger has thankfully been decreasing for decades ("only" 12% of the world's population goes to bed hungry vs one-third just 50 years ago), an additional 50 million people suffered from food deprivation due to the pandemic, not from a shortage of food, but rather from disruptions and inefficiencies in food supply chains - rather than being a problem, our food system can be a solution, but it is not progressing fast enough.

Georges Eischen, a Managing Partner of La Provençale, Luxembourg's premier food wholesaler, underscored Mr. Bobo's main theme of "uncertainty as the new normal", as well as the development of demand for local food sourcing and online food shopping in Luxembourg (still lacking in capacity).

Rather than experiencing food shortages, Luxembourg, like many other locations, suffered from consumers' "panic buying" at the beginning of the crisis, especially of food staples such as flour (to bake more at home) and pasta, as well as from disruptions in food supply chains. Demand fell, especially for fish and dairy products, as the restaurant sector was forced to shut down, leading to a vicious circle of reduced production (no fishing, fewer workers in agriculture) and exploding prices. The big winner turned out to be organic food, benefiting from a legacy of a higher level of trust by consumers. A big loser has been the environment, with increased usage of unecological packaging for food take-out and delivery. Going forward, consumers will have to choose between price and quality but should demand both.

Dr. Rachel Reckinger, a food anthropologist and sociologist at the University of Luxembourg and head of the project "Sustainable Food Practices", focused on social inequities and injustices existing in many parts of the world due to mangled food supply chains (distribution inequity).

Countries must develop resilience - a diversity of food as well as self-sufficiency in food availability - in order to develop their food "sovereignty." This requires stepping up to challenges in transforming their food systems and shortening supply chains, among other things. We must not create new dominance or concentration of food "power", similar to oligopolies in industry, but rather a coherent national food policy, even in countries with significant resources like Luxembourg.

In answer to a question about a probable second wave of the virus - with the first one not even yet fully contained across the world - the experts emphasized the importance of diversifying food supply chains and increasing resourcefulness of food distribution. Until a vaccine against COVID is found and widely disseminated, the world must get used to the "new normal."

 

Please find below the presentations and related links:

Food futurity presentation Jack Bobo

 

Rachel Reckinger links:

How resilient is Luxembourg food system 1

How resilient is Luxembourg food system 2

International blog of the RISC-RISE consortium (Regional Integration and Social Cohesion-Social Elevation)

 

Webinar recording

password: fNrtxK3B