A report from KPMG recently provided a stark wake up call for food producers who believed that eventually, in some distant pandemic-free time, it would be business as usual for providing and serving customers food.

KPMG argues that COVID-19 could be the ultimate disruptor – that on multiple levels, supplying food will never be the same again.

The report; The ‘now normal’ future – food and fibre in a world emerging for COVID-19 says the food and fibre sector, of which seafood is a part, has been privileged to trade through the pandemic as an essential industry but it is what happens from here on in that is critical, not just for the industry but for the economic recovery of the country.

The author, Ian Proudfoot, who has spoken twice at Seafood New Zealand conferences, says while we are facing massive disruption, we are also faced with great opportunities.

The importance of food was brought to the fore as the pandemic hit as people realised the global supply chains they had once taken for granted were broken.

Proudfoot says farmers, growers and fishers need to take their essential industry status to change what has historically been a negative narrative. That the conversation should move from being exploiters of natural resources to telling the story of food’s fundamental role in society.

In much the same way as the seafood industry positioned itself through The Promise campaign, Proudfoot says all food producers should be telling the story of the science and technology, the sustainability and the career opportunities.

He says we have a never-before-seen opportunity to explain ourselves to the world.

Proudfoot cautions about presuming we will ever go back to what was deemed normal pre COVID-19.

A population that has been constantly told of the dangers of interacting with anything and everyone will take a long time for people to have the confidence to move freely again; and in the meantime, new habits are born.

Will supermarkets remove their Perspex shields? Will food workers now routinely wear gloves? Will many in the population continue to wear masks when they eventually venture into crowded spaces?

Proudfoot predicts buying food online will continue to be a preference for many who first experienced it in lockdown. He says self-service food such as delicatessens will be viewed with new suspicion, if they ever open again.

And anyone who has seen the footage of the Japanese experiment of contagion at a buffet in the past few days may never touch shared food again. Proudfoot says the restaurant trend of shared plates may also revert to individual service.

He makes an interesting observation around packaging of food and a prediction that too will change. There are two global packaging philosophies; the European, where packaging is reduced for sustainability reasons and the North Asian, where food is packaged heavily to avoid handling. The European approach, currently more popular, may well cede favour to the North Asian as food safety continues to be top of mind.

Proudfoot urges food producers to put all their efforts into an immersive online experience and cautions that digital sales platforms should not be viewed as side lines and that companies should be developing dedicated processes to maximise the opportunities.

And they should be doing it now.