A few years down the line, 2020 will be the example of how to deal with global epidemics in the age of technology. The last time the world experienced a pandemic, it was a very different time. It was a slower world, where the movement of people and goods took longer.
Technology has changed that. But the same technology enables us to keep functioning better during these times. Obviously, the answer lies in how well we can develop and implement the required technologies in our lives to make it easier.
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, COVID-19 might cost the global economy $1-2 trillion in 2020. Though we are not sure of its exact potential impact on the Indian economy yet, several sectors are already getting affected. The F&B sector and the retail sector is definitely among the affected ones.
Effect on F&B Industry
Restaurants and bars are shut for almost three weeks now or in some cases a little longer. The three-week lockdown does not mean that the epidemic will stop on 15 April 2020. It is an attempt to flatten the curve.
The shutdown of restaurants has caused a ripple effect on related industries such as food production, alcohol production, food and beverage shipping, fishing and farming. There is a massive drop in the hospitality sector after nationwide lockdown. We will get through the three weeks. That’s not the challenge. Yes, cash flow is affected and there are no footfalls to restaurants, bars or cafe. But the question goes beyond the three-week lockdown.
Currently, supply-chain is partially affected by the lockdown. Raw material procurement has its challenges.
The question is about the post-lockdown scenario. We do not have an estimate of how many people will choose to step out to restaurants then. We anticipate an increase in takeaway and online orders but would that be enough to sustain?
Post the SARS outbreak in 2003, restaurants in Asia had to change the way they operate considerably. Restaurants in Singapore offered sanitizers to each of their customers. Masks became a part of daily wear. Restaurants would even take the body temperature of patrons before they were allowed to enter. This is something already being implemented with the staff and delivery executives.
This could be our new normal. Hygiene will be of utmost importance, and the definition of hygiene for restaurants could be changed.
We will also have to re-examine the supply chain model. We expect higher pricing for the next few months and will have to recalibrate our approach accordingly. The focus will also be on more healthy, freshly-cooked food rather than frozen foods.
The grab-and-go model will be more popular in the next few months. The fear of lingering around in unfamiliar places will continue, so increasingly people would prefer more takeaways or just grab their coffee on the go. This was a trend that had been gaining popularity over the last few months, and the COVID-19 scenario will boost this trend.
COVID-19 is a great chance for us to take a break and re-evaluate our processes as an industry. We believe this is a good chance to experiment for the better and identify ways that we could optimise our business model for the future.
Greater implementation of technology into processes, those that would give us insights beyond consumer behaviour is a good start. This could be in terms of optimising the supply chain, monitoring of sanitary conditions or perhaps even implement contactless serving and delivery.
We need to carefully analyse the trends and behaviour currently, so we are better prepared for the behaviour in the ‘new normal’ from this year.