While global supply chains succeeded in keeping food on the shelves during the Covid-19 crisis, which claimed large numbers of businesses in other industries, agribusiness leaders said it was far from ‘business as usual’.
Dr Mark Lyons, president and chief executive officer of Alltech, said keeping operational had been a critical element for businesses and that had aided consumer trust.
Speaking during a Women in Food and Agriculture webcast on how the agrifood chain had coped during the pandemic, he said: “People showed up and felt a renewed sense of purpose in the job.
“But this focus of the industry constantly looking at efficiency and constantly looking at a way that we can produce food at a lower price, has again been called into real question. “Because if we were not thinking of that, would we have had the ability to respond and would we have had the ability to be more flexible?”
Dr Lyons said Alltech had always built in local production throughout the world, which he said had given the business a ‘massive strategic advantage’ and helped it remain competitive.
He said trust between the actors in a supply chain was critical at any time, but especially in a pandemic and this should be a focus for businesses post-Covid-19.
“You are really seeing an appreciation from the consumer for the food sector in general, but particularly in local food and does this then shift things in terms of our supply chains.
“If you look at secure food supply, trust may be the driver in future, not price.”
Jacqueline Pieters, lead in finance and investment with the World Business Council of Sustainable Development and Rabobank, agreed more local sourcing could be a legacy of coronavirus.
“We are so focused on ‘just in time’ that there is little resilience in any disruption to our food supply and distribution,” she said.
“Maybe we should look at ‘just in case’, for example keeping more products in our countries but also having partnerships to help on the sourcing and distribution side.
“When out of home eating closed down overnight, we helped clients find new distribution channels, through a ‘farmers for neighbours’ type scheme. I hope that will remain.”
With the virus crisis being seen by many as a ‘reset’ moment in terms of sustainability, Dr Lyons highlighted the societal benefits agribusinesses provided.
And this brought into sharp focus products which purported to be better for the environment, for example non-meat proteins.
“A lot of products from some of the start-ups are very hot right now and very high on the sustainability indexes but they do not answer that societal question,” he said, adding that instead of pushing money back to the farmgate to enable rural communities to thrive, these products were effectively putting people out of business.
“To a large degree they disrupt a lot of rural communities and rural livelihoods,” said Dr Lyons.