What next for Food & Drink and Consumer/FMCG businesses?

What next for Food & Drink and Consumer/FMCG businesses?
Published: 29 May 2020

Psychologists describe the stages of the ‘crisis management curve’ as – firstly denial, followed by anxiety, adjustment, re-evaluation and then finally a new post-crisis normal.  According to Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.  As the lockdown regulations are slowly relaxed, more businesses contemplate the return to work and fast-moving consumer habits continue to adapt accordingly. As we approached our collective post-crisis normal, what must Food & Drink and Consumer/FMCG businesses do next to adapt, thrive and ultimately, be successful?

Vision, purpose and sustainability 

Now more than ever organisations need to demonstrate that they have a real vision, which has a genuine purpose and is clearly sustainable.  As savvy consumers and talented employees reflect over the weeks and months of lockdown, they demand this connection.  Crucially, so will future employees and the talent necessary and required to take these businesses forward both short-term and longer term.

Right people, right roles

Organisations need to not only retain high calibre individuals, but also successfully attract new talent too.  Reviewing their existing structures and making sure than they have the right people in the right roles and an organisation structure which will be able to prosper in the new normal is now more essential than ever.

Reviewing commercial channels

As consumer buying habits change and adapt,  so must the commercial channels which Food & Drink and Consumer/FMCG businesses focus upon.  No longer can some businesses neglect online or direct-to-consumer and merely focus on grocery retail, citing the overused excuse that ‘they have always done it this way’.  Particularly as in just the last few months according to data from Kantar, overall online sales have more than tripled in the UK.

Talent anywhere

Businesses that haven’t already must embrace flexible working practices to both attract and retain talented individuals.  Thus, allowing them to retain and also appoint high calibre employees without geographical restrictions or restraints.  In a recent McKinsey report, it highlighted the necessity of a ‘talent-anywhere strategy’, becoming increasingly common and allowing employers to strengthen capabilities without such geographical constraints of the past.


Real product innovation has fallen during the pandemic while the Food & Drink and Consumer/FMCG sector prioritised getting products on to shelves. However, looking to the changing consumer needs presents an area of huge potential growth. For example, as ‘The Grocer’ recently explained, as shoppers look for alternatives to restaurant trips or celebration meals, this could lead to a growth in areas such as ‘fakeaways’ – currently at an all-time high on Google searches. Restaurant-quality co-branded goods that shoppers can bring home for a night off from cooking, while still addressing value, solves that consumer need.

Investment and development of people

Einstein once told us that in every crisis lies an opportunity. Although so much about our present moment feels unprecedented, the global pandemic does not have to mean putting leadership and people development on hold. On the contrary, those organisations that invest now, will retain and attract the top-talent and ultimately reap huge benefits. Plus as previous experiences have illustrated to us all, challenging times can bring out the very best in people!

New opportunities and reinvention

Many economists often talk about challenging economic conditions, including recessions, leading to huge reinventions and new opportunities. The same will be true for the 2020s.  After the 2008 financial crisis, we saw the birth of dozens of brand new multi-billion-pound businesses such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox etc.

It remains to be seen as to whether organisations will cling to how they did business in the 2010s or use this time to transform into an even better version of themselves with a better vision and values?  How Food & Drink and Consumer/FMCG businesses appear today will look different on the other side of this crisis. Employers who want to successfully appoint the required talent to facilitate such change and evolution, will need to be pro-active and imaginative in their future recruitment campaigns.  They will also need to have a strong, transparent and candid relationship with a leading recruiter in the specific functional area and/or sector.

Berwick Partners can add invaluable expertise and access to a variety of networks to ensure we find you with the best person for the role. We lead the way in recruiting senior leadership positions across both the Private and Public sectors regionally, nationally and internationally. We support organisations in making key appointments which have a critical impact upon their businesses’ future and success.

Simon Walton is Head of the Consumer Practice at Berwick Partners, specialising in recruiting senior management and leadership roles across the sector. 

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