The foodservice and hospitality sector has been hugely impacted by the current pandemic. From restaurants and hotels, to the many suppliers who service the industry, who are now managing growing debtors, the challenges in servicing equipment and delays on new orders, with no clarity on when and how normal business practises will resume. In many cases, their customers, and indeed their own, revenue streams have been decimated overnight.

Representing over 200 member companies across the breadth of suppliers to the foodservice industry, including the catering equipment suppliers, food & drink producers, providers of consumables, interiors and hospitality technology, IFSA (the Irish Foodservice Suppliers Alliance) has published a Covid-19 expert panel discussion.

As businesses and IFSA members process the recent unprecedented events surrounding the coronavirus, IFSA has pledged to equip its members with valuable information in a bid for the industry to come together and support each other through this crisis.

Chaired by IFSA Board Member Frank Doonan from Martin Food Equipment, the virtual expert panel discussion featured Maureen Gahan, Foodservice Manager, Bord Bia; Roisin O’Shea, Head of Food & Drink and Gerado Larios Rizo, Head of Hospitality at Bank of Ireland; Owen McFeely,  Director Consumer & Retail at PWC Ireland and Ian Dillon, Partner at Dillon Kelly Cregan Accountants & Business Advisors.

Sharing expert insights, the panellists addressed the most pertinent questions from IFSA members and provided the latest insights from their respective organisations.

FOODSERVICE: There’s been seismic changes since this crisis began and we’re now operating in the ‘living with covid’ phase as referenced by Maureen Gahan from Bord Bia. Maureen explained that Bord Bia’s 2020 forecast of growth of 4-5% appeared to be on track in January, February and early March, but since then, everything has changed. It’s now expected that Ireland’s €8.5 billion foodservice industry has been reduced to 10% or less of 2019 figures by the coronavirus.

As is characteristic of the hospitality and foodservice industries, businesses are innovating at a rapid pace. Maureen highlighted that restaurants are now creating ‘out of home’ and ‘customer collection’ offerings, and some businesses have even transitioned by introducing meal kits, adding to the ‘at home’ experience.

In the UK, there’s signs that major restaurant chains are developing home delivery offerings, trialling these with limited menus in a small number of outlets. This is a trend that Maureen predicts may start to filter into Ireland.

FOOD & DRINK: With regards to food and drink producers, Maureen Gahan outlined that “selling online and delivering produce direct to consumers has been the most obvious innovation.” For producers whose primary customer base was foodservice, they’ve also redirected their offering to target consumers directly.

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Roisin O’Shea, Head of Food & Drink at Bank of Ireland added: “It’s not a case of businesses thriving, it’s a case of surviving.”  Roisin concurred with Maureen’s thoughts on the huge number of producers now delivering direct to consumers, but also highlighted excellent examples of collaboration whereby producers are combining their efforts to create enhanced ‘eating at home’ experiences. Roisin advised businesses to avail of the connections through organisations such as IFSA, through their networks and social media, and to take advantage of the opportunity to tell their stories now, when there’s huge public support for small businesses.

ECONOMY: The anticipated V-shaped recovery no longer seems likely added Owen McFeely, Director Consumer & Retail at PWC Ireland. It’s now widely accepted that it may be 2022 before the economy rebounds following the impact of Covid-19.

Looking to the months ahead, Owen called for the tourism, hospitality and leisure industries to come together to create an economic impact assessment. Looking to what lies ahead, Owen believes that social distancing is here to stay, and that future business will come from the home market first and foremost. Post lock-down, consumers will be focused on ‘safety first’, and Owen recommended that businesses start to look at their processes and those of their customers, adding: “stand back, and look at your processes, end to end,” essentially redesigning systems for business post Covid-19.

Owen highlighted that this is now the time for suppliers and customers to come together in creating solutions for how businesses in foodservice and hospitality will deliver their services in the future but within the parameters of the new normal, where safety is paramount and social distancing guidelines are applied.   Suppliers will start to engage with their customers in areas such as kitchen redesign, creating space for social distancing, right through to examining how technology will play a role in the customer journey, such as electronic menus, contactless payments etc.

BUSINESS SUPPORT: Gerado Larios Rizo, Head of Hospitality at Bank of Ireland reassured members that support is available. Commenting that “cash management is a widespread problem”, Gerado emphasised that this period will be viewed as an “exception” when requesting facilities. He added that any company’s position will be assessed over “a full year” rather than at one point in time allowing a full analysis of the debtor and cash management within the organisation.

Welcoming the Irish Government’s support packages, Ian Dillon, Partner at Dillon Kelly Cregan Accountants & Business Advisors explained that the current support packages are relevant to most businesses, however, there are still pitfalls. Dependent on circumstance, it’s now recognised that there are businesses who will unfortunately fall through the cracks.

He advised all businesses to be prudent and to keep notes and records for their forecasting, to enable visibility of the requirement for businesses to have suffered a minimum 25% fall in either turnover or customer orders.

Concluding the panel discussion, IFSA Board Member, Frank Doonan, called for members to reach out to the team at IFSA and to other members for support, in helping us all to navigate the weeks and months ahead.