The Food Retail Environment Study for Health and Economic Resiliency (FRESHER) aims to identify the impacts of COVID-19 on the food industry as well as explore the impacts of government programs and policies on business owners. The information that the FRESHER team gathers will be useful to policymakers to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the food retail sector and provide evidence that can be used to (re)develop programs, policies and strategies that will aid in the recovery of the industry.
Thus far, over 300 current and former employees and employers in the food retail industry have completed the survey. Findings from the survey indicate that 41% of respondents currently rate their business performance as poor, compared to only 3% before the pandemic. Additionally, 57% of respondents stated that they began offering online ordering and pick-up services for the first time, once the pandemic started in March 2020.
Since the first wave of the pandemic, 55 interviews have been conducted with business owners, employees and professionals in the food retail industry. A key finding from these interviews is that restaurant owners are worried about the coming winter and what that will mean for customer volume on patios. Additionally, restaurant owners are finding it difficult to understand and keep track of various government support programs that may be available to them. Small and medium sized restaurant owners are also finding the third-party delivery model problematic, as these delivery services reportedly take a 20-30% commission on each order, decreasing already tight profit margins. On a more positive note, professionals have indicated that many communities and businesses are engaging in unique strategies to sustain the local economy and find ways to lessen the burden on businesses. Some of these strategies include community-based delivery services, cross-business collaboration and promotions, wholesale food programs to sell surplus restaurant product and keep suppliers on board, and targeted grants for initiatives like purchasing PPE and winterizing patios. FRESHER will continue to document these strategies and find ways to share successful ideas with businesses and policymakers.
In terms of what’s next for the FRESHER project, the FRESHER team will continue to monitor the Western Ontario region, and expand tracking activities to cover the entire province. Interviews and survey activities will continue, with a focus on the Western Ontario region. Additionally, a consumer preferences survey will be sent out in London in early 2021.
Deep Dish blog posts on topics such as the early impacts of COVID-19 on the retail food industry, evolving consumer preferences and purchasing locally during the pandemic are available to read on the FRESHER website. Other Deep Dish posts on topics such as third-party delivery services, winterizing restaurant patios and the impact of provincial policy shifts on the restaurant industry will be shared soon.
If you would like to learn more about the FRESHER project, complete the employee survey or participate in an interview, please click here.