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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

Pick for Britain, supermarket queues and the future of UK food

Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.” Thomas Hardy

Food shopping has become a Mission Impossible

Three times I have driven around various car parks, checked the length of the queue and then driven off. It is quite extraordinary how supermarket demand appears exponential and there’s no sign of a downturn. What is driving this insatiable desire to buy food? Isn’t it time we changed our reliance on these megaliths and reappraised what we eat, where we buy ingredients and how we cook?

What we want and what's available may be misaligned

If we don’t think again, I reckon that external circumstances will soon mean we realign what we want with what is actually available. For example, there is a real fear that vegetables may well be ploughed back into the soil if the ‘patriotic’ Pick for Britain calls are ignored. George Eustice, environment secretary, suggested furloughed workers got out onto the land to bring in the crops. It sounds like a wonderful idea. That is until you realise that morning shifts often start at 4am and conditions are poorly paid and really quite challenging. It certainly gives an insight into what the Bulgarian and Romanian workers face. In fact, it is our historic reliance on low paid workers filling in that has meant farm wages have not risen sufficiently. We will metaphorically reap what has been sown and the consumer will pay, pay and pay again.

Of course, wasting time in supermarket queues is a minor gripe

Yet for many this is not an attractive characteristic of the ‘new normal’. It seems we may well have to get used to many differences as we ease ourselves out of lockdown. I mean, the idea of putting anything on other than elasticated trousers might be more than a stretch in many households! Joking aside, obesity is a profound issue. Lots of us have replaced all other hobbies and exercise with food and snacks. It is not surprising under the stressful circumstances and I have every sympathy, but the next epidemic will no doubt be associated with being significantly heavy. Even our Prime Minister has come to the realisation that his inability to cope alone with CV19 was down to his excess weight. We have to be mindful. Maybe the supermarket queues might well affect what we buy in the long run.

Warmer temperatures, no rain, plague and then maybe, locusts!

In addition, as we officially clock into summer, the farmers are warning of a rise in prices as May has been the warmest for decades. Coupled with that we are expecting potential hose pipe bans and little significant rain in sight. How can we be flooded and up to our neck in water to find that six months later we are facing shortages?

8 things that may prompt massive food price hikes

This brings me to my main point; personally, I believe the pressure on the UK consumer’s wallet is going to be immense. We will be hit on all sides. Think of the things that are affecting food prices:

  1. Supply chain disruptions

  2. New UK Global Tariff on food imports.

  3. Availability

  4. Restrictive Migration Policy

  5. Insufficient land workers

  6. Cost of increased safety measures

  7. Cost of mechanisation

  8. Profiteering

The OFNS said that the cost of a shopping basket has risen by 4.4% by April 2020

This is bound to have risen during May. Some prices rose 1.8% in one week. This was put down to the significant rise in pet food, nappies, hand wash and rice. It’s difficult to pin down what’s happening exactly, and price changes fluctuate on a weekly basis. However, anyone who has queued and made it into the supermarket already knows that cheap food prices that have become the norm for decades are beginning to disappear.

Future trends?

Bearing in mind that post-furlough many people will be unemployed, earning less and generally feeling the pinch I suspect that food trends will change again. For many, reliance on takeaways has dropped, expensive and highly processed foods might well become unaffordable, so what trends might we see? Perhaps even boxed water? There's a thought.

I am going to predict that we could develop more reliance on local food shops.

People might end up shopping for just what they need, the odd ingredient that makes a meal or livens up left-overs. The French word ‘réchauffé’ is much more appetising and I shall adopt it immediately! Our ability to be very canny in food purchases, preparation and lack of waste may well be the skills we need to carry us through. Farmers, food producers, manufacturers, and consumers are going to have much to ponder over the coming months as we adapt to the new challenges. This is where mechanisation and AI can make a massive difference. If we have seen a revolution in home working, I guess we will see the acceleration of the 4th Industrial revolution that would have Thomas Hardy spinning in his grave. Watch this space.


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