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Food System Impacts of COVID-19

26 May 2020 - 30 November 2021

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Michael Winter

CI/s in Exeter: Professor Matt Lobley, Dr Timothy Wilkinson

Research partners: Dr Steve Guilbert, Research Fellow

Funding awarded: (total funding of £ 180,000)

Sponsor(s): UKRI - ESRC

Project webpage(s)

Food System Impacts of COVID-19

About the research

COVID-19 has sent a systemic shock through the food supply system of the UK. Its impact was rapid and dramatic and reports of panic-buying and images of empty supermarket shelves were among the early defining features of the crisis. But while much media attention has been on retail and consumers, the radical shock and dislocating impact of the COVID-19 has been equally felt upstream of retail, in food manufacturing, processing packaging and distribution. It is here where rapid restructuring in response to the crisis has been, and will be, required most of all within the food supply system.

Research focus and key questions

Our focus is on the management of the disruptive social and economic impacts of COVID-19 in the context of food provisioning.

We have 5 key questions:

1. What is the extent of continuity and dislocation in the supply chain and how does this vary (if at all) across the following key commodities: dairy, fish, flour, fresh fruit and vegetables and meat?

2. Where radical changes in routes to markets are proving necessary, what and how extensive are the barriers to change?

3. What are the experiences of primary producers as supply chains adapt and change?

4. What regulations, incentives, investments or interventions might be required to optimise supply chain adjustments and ensure fairness for different players within the food supply chain?

5. What are the long term implications of the crisis for the food supply chain?

To help us answer these questions we will:

1. Undertake a rapid appraisal of the supply chain literature as a basis for framing the empirical work.

2. Establish a panel of experts for England drawn from each of the five main food sectors, as well as industry representative bodies, and nutrition specialists. We will hold fortnightly conference or ‘Team’ calls with the panel members seeking supply chain intelligence.

3. Conduct online research covering media and social media stories of supply chain issues and concerns, including the emergence of new routes to market.

4. Launch a basic on-line barometer survey of food businesses across the supply chain.

5. Conduct c50 key telephone interviews with producers, processors and distributors and retailers.

Research outputs and outcomes

Our primary deliverable will be a series of monthly bulletins, to be issued as 'living documents’ updated with new information between issues. A second deliverable will be a project website to disseminate the bulletins and other research findings and to allow stakeholders to post new evidence as it emerges.

Our deliverables are designed to feed directly into policy requirements for up to date intelligence on supply chain issues and concerns. Uniquely, our expert panel will connect the research with key policy officials and food supply chain actors.

You can listen to Professor Michael Winter talk about the project here.