Food Industry: DECODING CHINA’S RESPONSE TO COVID19
Owing to its successful efforts in flattening the curve, China is among the states that stand as a model for other nations. Admittedly, once the epicenter, the country is still far from being 100 percent COVID-19 free; there are still scare of another wave. However, its unprecedented measures – be it the lockdown, closed management of communities, and more – has set precedent for the rest of the world.
Beyond the Murkier Side
Of course, implementing, at face value, PRC’s dealings in containing the spread of the virus is debatable due to the country’s contentious socio-political framework. The official numbers from their government are murkier. And while they have certainly answered how to combat coronavirus successfully without a vaccine, they have also opened many new questions that the free world would inevitably seek answers to.
However, that said, a segment where China has come up virtuously that other countries can take a page out of is the food and beverage industry. Despite stringent lockdowns and its economic impact, they managed, to a large extent, to mitigate susceptibilities from the said sector.
Feeding the Citizens
The food supply chain remained consistent. The strong local food systems ensured adequate distribution of fresh and non-processed foods to the distant corners. Prices of food items, across all major cities and their rural territories, stayed stabilized. The private sectors and civil society, along with the public sectors, played a key role here.
So, the countries that are beleaguered with the rising cases of COVID-19 – they can sure learn a few things from China in this regard for immaculate management and recovery of the food and beverage industry as a key step in their response to the pandemic. Because, at present, with lockdowns seemingly as an only effective option to tackle the massive problem at-hand, the governments need to make proactive efforts in ensuring enough food supply to its citizenry so that people do stay at home and do not starve.
There are many lessons in how China handled its food and beverage industry in the face of the novel coronavirus.
A Caring and Collaborative Approach
Different stakeholders in China came together to eliminate any possible situation of food scarcity for the masses – from the not-for-profit organizations to individual citizens. And this made it quite evident that overly relying on the local governments is a dire approach – especially in large countries like India where the state’s resources can easily be over-stressed and over-spent. The communities must come together to create a collaborative support system where they work for and with each other. The business owners, NGOs, civil societies, and every individual must come forward to join hands with the local authorities to create a reliable food system where essential items reach everyone’s home in an adequate amount.
Need for DIY Meals
With restaurants, take-outs, and other food outlets shut in China, people opted for DIY meals. Everyone was cooking at home. The demand for ready-to-cook items rose heights. More of meal kits that pack rich nutrients made way in the market.
Similarly, even in other countries, to tackle the food challenges rising from COVID-19, more DIY meal packages must be made available. India, indeed, trades much better when it comes to cooking foods at home. However, such ready-to-cook, semi-cooked items should be pushed in large quantities. The varieties must go beyond just Maggi. Plus, the foods must also have an element of good health; the immunity-boosting items must be pushed at the forefront; owing to the current situation, the eating habit must take a slight change with the change in the menu; for instance, plant-based protein should be opted for widely over animals.
The availability of such healthy meal packages can significantly ease the distress and wait-time in local markets, making social distancing and lockdowns more efficient to implement. Moreover, such packages are easy to deliver to even the last of families that cannot spare money on food. In India, there are many such families.
Seamless Supply Chain
At the top of the supply chain, efficient measures were placed in China to enable optimum agricultural outputs. For instance, different places were identified into three zones: Green, Yellow and Red zones. Those in green zones were allowed to work on their farmlands freely. Those in the yellow zones, strict protocols were to be followed for farming. And for those in the red zone, they were made to wait until being classified into the orange zone. This made sure that the summer grain harvest was in boom with little disruption. In addition, China also did plenty of other things – like dealing with labor shortage on the farm and organizing the supplies of fertilizers/pesticides – to keep the agricultural activities close to normal.
A similar model needs to be adopted in India and other large countries wherein, foremost, the top level of the supply chain is put in a strong position. Once there are enough foods to feed the states, the supply can then trickle down through unfenced transportations to local markets and then the final consumers. The government must ensure a solid base (and even incentives) for the farmers to produce and harvest more. Following, it must create a transparent infrastructure where the foods are effortlessly transferred through different levels in the supply chain to reach every family.
A Strong Online Infrastructure
This goes without saying. The digital advancements in China played a key role in keeping its food and beverage industry alive and essentially-driven. Sitting at home, more people were ordering foods and essential items. While online food delivery was already a $65 billion market in China, catering half a billion customers, during the COVID-19 period, the online sales of top online platforms touched new records. “My orders have increased. Sometimes I will deliver a 100lb bag of flour, a sack of rice, or a barrel of oil,” said a motorcycle delivery driver, as reported by the Times.
India’s e-commerce scene is ably strong with key players like Walmart-backed Flipkart and Amazon flexing wide market penetration, unparalleled infrastructure, powerful logistics, and a pool of delivery men and women. The grocery segment has Big Basket, Grofers, and more who have enough resources. And then food apps like Zomato and Swiggy, too, have strong foundations and massive reach. So, the country does have a strong online – and subsequent offline – infrastructure on the back of renowned brands. However, for them to function proficiently, proper policies need to be brought into place to ensure these channels seamlessly connect the buyers-sellers and fulfill orders of essential items like foods quickly and uninterrupted.
Ideas, Innovations, and Growth
China showed that collective ideas and efforts are the answer to avoid any possible shortage of foods due to COVID-19. It showed that innovative executions can lead to the growth in the food and beverage industry even at a time of economic contraction.
It’s a long way ahead of us to recover from this pandemic and enter a new normal. For society to reach that point, adopting a growth-centric approach in the food industry is almost essential to feed the masses. Necessity is the mother of innovation – and these are necessary and challenging times that very certainly demand innovations. The businesses and service providers in the food sector must recognize their role and hold their responsibilities high to go up and beyond their regular duties. They must seriously consider adopting new marketing strategies. They must strengthen their logistics and integrate different departments end-to-end with higher robustness. They must embrace the ideas of shared labors, shared stores, shared resources, and shared deliveries. They must invest in advanced kitchen technologies. There are many more “they must”.
In the end, a starving population is a battle lost even when we win against this virus. A host of responses should be triggered on every level, encouraging participation of every stakeholder in the society – right FROM the government bodies, police at state-border checkpoints, and business owners TO that truck driver, local market vendor, delivery personnel, and the end consumer. The good thing is China has left an example for the world on how to keep the food and beverage industry functional and growing during a pandemic – and how to keep the citizens fed.