One of the enduring images from the pandemic will be of bare supermarket shelves as people turned their feelings of anxiety and frustration towards their pantry, in part no doubt, as a way to regain some control in a time of enormous uncertainty.
Of course, there was never a risk of our nation running out of food – the Australian Food and Grocery Council reassured Australians at the height of lockdowns and ‘panic’ buying that the nation produced enough food to feed 75 million people, much more than enough for domestic consumption. And, if people had just stuck to their normal food buying-habits during lockdowns – which of course permit supermarket visits – there probably wouldn’t have been an issue at all.
However, it did momentarily highlight something many Australians would have taken for granted until the pandemic – a reliable supply of high-quality fresh and processed foods. Hopefully it has also prompted some consideration of new and improved strategies – and government policy where appropriate – to further strengthen our food supply chains and processes in the event of future shocks, both domestically and globally.
Because, quite simply, reliable supply matters to people even if it probably doesn’t cross their minds in times of certainty and calm – an environment that Australians are fortunate enough to enjoy most of the time. A recently-released report titled Community Trust in Rural Industries (Year Two) has shown the community is very focused on the efforts of rural industries in ensuring a safe and reliable source of food and natural products, particularly since the arrival of COVID-19, but far from being unsure about the efforts of our food and fibre producers, there’s an increasing confidence in the sector in this respect.
The Community Trust in Rural Industries program is an Australian first – a partnership involving 11 Rural Research and Development Corporations, as well as the National Farmers’ Federation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries, and designed to develop an aligned approach to long-term engagement with the community.
The findings in the latest report are good news for all of our hard-working industries right across the sector and present some real opportunities. With safety and reliability of supply top of mind for consumers, industries that can deliver on this – particularly in times of enormous change and challenges that will often be out of their control – stand to earn ongoing loyalty and support that will sustain and grow their businesses into the future.
Running parallel with this – in the wake of a confronting health crisis – is the desire from more consumers to know where their food comes from, understanding what’s in the food they eat and how it’s produced. Again, opportunity knocks for our rural industries – and many within these industries are already reaping the benefits – in terms of getting closer to their customers and selling the benefits of what they produce in terms of health, taste, environmental responsibility and ethical considerations. The explosion in online food and natural products transactions is one example of just how businesses have picked up the proverbial ball and run with it.
And there’s no doubt that by industries working together and understanding community expectations, and consumers supporting those businesses striving to earn their trust and loyalty, we all stand to benefit with a prosperous, secure and high-quality supply chain that can withstand any challenge thrown at it.