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From WIA Europe: How COVID-19 Changed our Food and Sustainability Behaviours

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (July 21, 2020)

There was certainly a buzz at our first virtual conference – the Women in Agribusiness Summit Europe 2-3 July – and thanks goes out to the hundreds of attendees who engaged with us in Paris time (and a special thanks to those in the U.S. who crept awake in the wee hours of the morning to join us).

Apart from the anticipation felt by all, our team was laser-focused on providing the most up-to-date knowledge in the agrifood sector via our expert speakers, and bringing professional businesswomen together to network, discuss and share challenges and opportunities. I would say we succeeded in our ongoing WIA mission to, in the words of our COO and WIA Director Joy O’Shaughnessy, “build a community of women and advocates for women to help each other fully reach their potential”. Women who “feel a responsibility to ‘lift as they climb’.”

Said first-time attendee and speaker on our Innovation Panel, Christa Herrmann of Terribiom:

“Despite the unfortunate situation of not having been able to meet everyone in person this year, it has been two days packed with high-level, extremely valuable content and especially a wonderful network of women driving towards a more sustainable, just and fair agribusiness! I am now continuing to explore the connections and content on your pathable platform.”

In case you didn’t get the chance to attend the WIA Summit Europe, you can still register for the event and listen to the recorded presentations, and also engage with the speakers and attendees through the virtual platform. There’s also the opportunity to join us for the virtual U.S. Women in Agribusiness Summit in September.

Here are the highlights from one of the sessions: How COVID-19 Changed our Food and Sustainability Behaviours, by Vanessa Mayneris of Plan in London.

To note, Mayneris is a product and innovation management expert, with in-depth knowledge of the global packaged food industry who leads the Food & Beverage consulting team at Plan, in London. She is passionate about different food rituals around the world, the flexitarian movement, and how to design and position successful plant-based products. She spoke on opening day of the WIA Summit Europe, describing the nine key findings in her company’s recent survey about what food behaviors in the UK have changed due to COVID-19 and the innovation opportunities that resulted.

1. E-commerce comes up short. Online grocery sales increased 129%, but so did e-frustration. Massive consumer dissatisfaction due to long wait times and unavailable products lead to:

a. E-commerce pivot – where big companies go direct online to consumers.

b. Optimized operations – such as larger packaging.

c. New partnerships – to navigate new consumer delivery channels

2. Community spirit comeback, where regionality and the support of farmers and small business owners gained importance, which lead to the rise of:

a. More independent suppliers

b. The return of the milkman

c. Farm to fork traceability

3. Hygienic mindset, where fear of contamination led consumers to reach for pre-packaged items for sanity concerns – less hands on the final product and an easier to clean package. Fifty-eight percent of the survey respondents indicated that they changed their shopping habits to reduce the number of trips and contact with people. This made marketers take notice and focus on:

a. Hygienic packaging to protect food

b. Guaranteed cleanliness, such as a contact-less way to open your hotel door by using your phone

c. Clean on-the-go items

4. Home-cooked health. Being home meant cooking more, and with more time, consumers paid attention to the quality of what they were eating, with a focus on healthier cooking and food options, which for the future means a:

a. Meal kit boom

b. Boost in foods that build immunity

c. Rise in plant-based consumers

5. Home baking explosion, more than ever before, consumers were cooking for themselves and with stay-at-home orders, the baking of treats in large quantities flourished – 40% of respondents increased their purchase of baking ingredients. This spurred:

a. Distraction – baking to fill the time

b. Artistic hobby – food as art

c. Convenient shortcuts – more time to allow exploring substitutions in recipes

6. Planning for impulse treats, with fewer pleasures left, consumers were going with treats being ok, and finding other ways to engage around food, such as online pubs and games, and continued:

a. Quarantine snacking

b. Virtual pub experiences

c. Special indulgent moments

7. Sustainability remains as a priority, and while consumers have been conflicted between balancing hygiene concerns with sustainability and plastic packaging, the lockdown did not change this desire to maintain sustainable habits, such as:

a. Pausing reusables

b. Pressing ahead on refillables

c. Anti-plastic packaging

8. Confronted by food waste – the lockdown pushed food waste to the top of the sustainability concerns, resulting in:

a. Waste-less generation

b. Optimized operations – if food is not used, it is sent to food pantries or charities

c. Frozen revival, so there is just-right portions.

9. Availability over loyalty - Shoppers are adapting to what’s available on shelves. As a result, they are trialing new brands and products they wouldn’t usually buy, becoming less brand and price-sensitive during the lockdown. The lack of availability of consumers’ preferred foods is driving them to discover alternative products and trial new brands they wouldn’t usually buy, and consequently become less brand loyal and price sensitive during the lockdown.

a. Second favourites – as consumers cannot access the food from their favourite restaurants, brands are creatively teaching them how to recreate their recipes at home, with alternative everyday ingredients

b. Leaning to own-label – with a large portion of the population being furloughed or having their wages reduced, choosing own-label products is becoming a default and at times the only option available on shelves. Thirty-eight million new grocery and over-the-counter shoppers trialed private brands in the seven weeks since March 1st. And 29% returned to buy these again.

c. Home-grown – growing produce indoors is slowly resurfacing, as households search for productive and meditative activities, while trying to bypass any food supply issues.

Added Mayneris at the end of her presentation, “Food is much more than fuel for your body. It has a cultural aspect, it nurtures your soul and has an impact on how we see the world, and consumers are really aware of that. Manufacturers really felt during the crisis that they wanted to have a positive impact on the world and society, as evidenced by them thanking employees and others with their help in feeding the world.”

For more information about the many other sessions at the Women in Agribusiness Summit Europe, visit or follow us on Twitter @womeninagri and join our Facebook or LinkedIn communities.


Do you have a story you'd like to contribute to WIA Today? Or a suggestion for a story, or comments about an article? Please reach out to Michelle Marshall at and share your thoughts. We'd love to hear from you.

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