Central Foods shares insights into impact of pandemic and Brexit

Most sectors have been adversely hit in some way by the twin effects of the covid pandemic and Brexit. Leading frozen food distributor Central Foods sheds light on how the foodservice industry has been affected

“During the pandemic, frozen food sales in the retail sector went through the roof as families restricted shopping trips to the supermarket and bought more in bulk and online to tide them over until their next visit,” explains Gordon Lauder, MD of Central Foods. “But it was obviously a very different story in the foodservice sector. Some takeaway and fast food operators managed to trade again once the first lockdown ended on 4 July last year, but pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues managed little trading during each of the lockdowns.

“Demand for foodservice products continued from hospitals, care homes, prisons and schools open for key worker children, but no one can deny the foodservice sector was hit significantly by the lockdowns and restrictions.”

“Recent figures from The ONS reveal how the industry continued to be disproportionately hit by the pandemic, with 355,000 fewer employees than a year before, accounting for 43% of the national unemployed total.*

The impact of the Covid pandemic, combined with Brexit, caused a perfect storm in the sector.

“Like all distributors, although we had to write off some stock as it went out of date, we tried to maintain stock levels of popular lines in anticipation of the sector re-opening,” explains Gordon. “This was not easy due to various factors, including new, highly complex Brexit legislative requirements, capacity reduction due to implementation of covid-19 factory shift patterns and the short supply of ingredients from suppliers with their own covid-19 issues, but we did the best we could.

Central Foods, which supplies a wide range of frozen products to the foodservice sector, believes that the effects of lockdown may last for a while.

“Despite pent-up demand, many consumers are still nervous about going out to eat and have got used to enjoying takeaways and meal delivery kits and boxes during lockdown; so this pivoting away from dining-in may affect demand for some time,” adds Gordon.

“At the time of writing, many hospitality staff are still on furlough, reducing an outlet’s capacity. This, combined with the impact of the track and trace system, means that venues generally are operating at around only 50% capacity - some even less – as staff get ‘pinged’ and need to self-isolate for the requisite 10 days. This reduced capacity, too, will impact the volumes of food and drink required. It’s been very difficult to plan stock forecasts because of the ongoing uncertainty of the situation for hospitality venues. For these reasons, we’re expecting that it will take some time before the foodservice sector sees sales return to pre-covid levels. Like most businesses we remain cautious about the future.”

Northamptonshire-based Central Foods is one of the UK’s leading frozen food service distributors - supplying hundreds of different lines into foodservice, ranging from vegetarian and free-from items, meat products, bakery items and canapés through to buffet products, desserts and puddings. It currently sells to more than 240 independent wholesalers, as well as larger national and regional wholesalers, and foodservice caterers across the entire foodservice industry including fast food operators.

Its range for takeaway and fast-food operators includes the popular Golden Valley Foods poultry products, as well as burgers, sausages – including vegetarian and vegan options - and a sizzling selection of sides.

*Propel Newsletter 21.4.21


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