WHILE the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has proved devastating for many sectors, small, local food and drink suppliers have been on the right side of an unprecedented change in consumer behaviour.

With more people shopping locally and shopping healthily there is a higher demand than ever before for fresh British produce. Direct to consumer sales have also gone through the roof as shoppers avoid public spaces and large supermarkets where social distancing is more difficult.

In the short term, this is fantastic news for smaller local retailers. That being said, the challenge is now on to ensure that these new customers stick around as normality slowly returns.

Local suppliers have found themselves at the heart of communities like never before, as customers look to shop locally for their produce. More or less overnight, this has provided an incredible boost to brand loyalty as store owners have become a key part of people’s lives.

Making the most of this change in customer habit is key and businesses may need to move out of their comfort zones to do that. We are already seeing some of the more forward-thinking food and drink businesses adjusting their approach to make sure the spike in demand isn’t a short-term aberration.

Effective e-commerce platforms are simpler and cheaper than ever before as more and more businesses, that would normally have relied on footfall through a high street store, move online. This option will likely prove particularly popular as measures like face masks continue to be mandatory. The fact that more people are working from home will also be a boost to retailers providing home delivery.

If this trend continues we could even see butchers and grocers move away from the traditional shop front, preferring instead to move into larger, cheaper, out of town premises more appropriate for larger scale production and home delivery.

It isn’t just suppliers that have diversified though, as restaurants, bars and cafes have all adjusted their offering in order to supply anything from pizza to cocktails, via click and collect or home delivery. Now, more than ever, convenience is king and an end to lengthy bar queues is an understandably attractive prospect for many consumers.

Another interesting by-product of the Covid crisis has been an increase in collaboration between businesses that may previously have been competitors. In the brewing industry we have seen craft brewers from across the country collaborating in all sorts of ways. Whether it’s sharing delivery infrastructure to reduce capital costs or exploiting each other’s distribution channels to extend the reach of products, collaboration has been a particularly beneficial development.

The current climate has also been surprisingly healthy for food and drink investment, with the right kind of product an attractive proposition for external investors.

Similarly, crowd funding has proved a fruitful alternative as businesses look to make the most of the good will built up within their communities. This kind of fast injection to finances may have been little more than a life jacket for some, but for many it has meant businesses can be one step ahead of the curve.

While most businesses continue struggling to keep their heads above water, small food and drink retailers have been blessed with an influx of new customers. The challenge for those retailers is now to retain that new business for the medium and long term.

The most successful businesses will inevitably be those that move quickly to adjust and transform their business, positioning it to make the most of short-term gains as we all discover what “the new normal” really is.

Adam Hardie is head of food and drink at Johnston Carmichael