Opinion: Future forecast

This month, consultant Peter Backman looks at how the industry will be effected by the extremes in weather we are experiencing...

The last few weeks have provided both hope and fear. The hope has come from the seeming success of vaccination programmes, not only in this country but globally too. The future is beginning to look less dreadful, even though it will take years not months until the world comes out on the other side of covid. But, in the UK at any rate, the delta variant infections appear to be on the decline, and it is becoming possible for businesses to draw up their plans that are realistic in the medium term, flexible enough to deal with this and future waves of different, aggressive variants.

The fear, though, comes in the form of the weather we have experienced. In the UK, rain and heat have both arrived – at different times – over the past few weeks. They are both an indication of what is happening in other places – floods in Germany and Belgium, fires in Oregon – and a portent of what we will have to cope with over the coming years. The Met Office asserted in a report recently that “climate change isn't something in the future - it is with us now”.

There are longer term changes that are way beyond the timeframe of my forecasts, but in relatively small ways in the near term, and increasingly as time goes by, they will provide both opportunities and threats to UK foodservice sector operators. For instance, warmer weather, lasting for longer, will provide more opportunities for outside dining which, happily, is also being extended into the months of colder weather as a result of the (unrelated) pressure from Covid restrictions on indoor dining.

But the threats - of disruption, unacceptable damage, changing lifestyle patterns - are all possible and of potentially serious impact along the supply chain from field to table. These changes – good and bad, short term and long term - point to a period of evolution in our daily lives. And specifically, they seem to me to indicate a period when the norms and certainties of the foodservice market are undergoing a shift. These changes may not be noticeable in the short term, but they are working their way through the economy and social life in this country (and elsewhere).

I think it is important to be aware that there are these developments slowly, and perhaps silently, insinuating themselves into our lives and into our businesses. And it is probably a good idea to spend some time thinking about the longer-term changes that will arise, and that will be impinging on our short term decisions. I don’t think businesses are attuned to thinking like this – maybe they should?

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