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08 Jun, 2021

What have we learned from Covid-19?

David Leydon shares the top five digital impacts we see emerging from Covid-19

In the immediate aftermath of the arrival of the pandemic, protecting the people in the business and managing cash were critical. Some of the companies who showed the most resilience were focused on regular granular cashflow management, kept a keen focus on debtors, maximised the use of Government supports and looked for opportunities to diversify revenue streams where possible.

However, the longer-term impact of the pandemic will be the focus it has placed on the strategic importance of technology for both food businesses and agribusinesses to stay competitive.

Here are the top five digital impacts we see emerging from Covid-19:

1.  Consumer expectations

Consumers of all ages and in all parts of the country have changed their digital behaviour. A year into this pandemic and there is now an expectation that most businesses will be able to handle a certain level of transaction digitally.

For a vet it might mean being able to book an appointment using social media, for a food company it is the ability to execute home delivery or for a merchant it is enabling farmers to order online and collect at the yard. For a mart, not having online trading capacity, it simply means closure during periods of level 5 lockdowns.

These are significant shifts and consumer expectations will not suddenly revert to pre-pandemic norms. Your customer has moved online so your business must be there to meet them.

2.  Communication

“You’re on mute!”. A year into our pandemic there is still no Zoom or Teams meeting that goes by without, “you’re on mute”, getting repeated. It is a phrase that is now part of everyday life. While video call technology is far from new, it took a pandemic to bring it into food and agribusiness workplaces in a significant way.

In our sector getting in the car or on the plane was the way to do business. We have now seen a new way of doing business. While a hybrid model of meeting occasionally while doing a lot of business both internally and externally on video will be the likely new norm. For a business this means:

  • Making sure your technology is suitable

  • Using this technology to collaborate effectively internally and externally

  • Using webinars for sales and customer engagement

  • Helping your team with the skills needed to build credible online relationships to help drive on the business.

  • Re-engineering your processes so you can handle comms from multiple platforms – phone, email and also a range of social media platforms.

3.  Food sales – Diversification of channels

Online grocery sales have grown significantly during the pandemic. For some food businesses this has meant building their direct-to-consumer (D2C) model. A more important change though is how online shopping with the major supermarkets has developed.

The impact on Irish food producers from increased online grocery shopping will be significant. Further investment in their brands is critical if they are to successfully shape consumer behaviour in this growing e-commerce environment. Irish food producers need to understand how to package their product so it looks attractive on the digital shelf, how to maximise online promotions with the retailer and analyse how they rank on each e-commerce platform when, for example, a user searches for a generic term like yogurt or bread. This requires both a sophisticated digital skillset and the financial power to invest in their business.

Read more here.

4.  Digital infrastructure

Making solid decisions now in terms of your digital infrastructure will pay dividends. Making best use of cloud technology is more important than ever giving users in the business remote access and comfort on business continuity. What security steps must the business take in a more digitally enabled world? What payment software is most suitable? What automation is available for the business from the factory floor to the office?

Our recent automation publication can be viewed here.

5.  Workplace culture

Finally, workplace culture and expectations have also changed. There is a divide especially in our food and agribusiness sector between those who can Work from Home (WFH), the minority, and those who have to show up on the frontline of the business, the majority. Managing hybrid teams is a new skillset for management and building in fairness and flexibility is important. Ignoring WFH expectations from some groups of staff will disadvantage the sector in the medium term as talent will move to businesses who do offer this opportunity.

Our consultancy team in ifac are working with clients who have had a range of experiences during this pandemic. Digital transformation is a unifying theme across all of the businesses. Staying competitive means embracing digital change.