Sign of the times

Associated British Foods’ release of its interim results and subsequent statement shows just what businesses are going through right now, and probably will be for some time going forward.

“The group delivered an encouraging trading performance in the first half,” said George Weston, the chief executive. But then goes on to highlight the rapid spread of Covid-19 and the impact it has had on everything – both personal and professional. As Weston puts it , “the human tragedy that continues to unfold has shocked and saddened us all”.

Two of Associated British Foods’ employees, Mario Marioli who worked for forty years in its Italian yeast plant, and Claudio Maini who worked at Acetum for twenty years, lost their lives to Covid-19 in the last three weeks, and the business has another employee currently in intensive care in the USA. One of ABF’s head office colleagues lost her partner to the disease last week.

We’re into our second month of lockdown and thoughts are turning to reopening of retail stores and some degree of office work. Yet, any openings of any description can only happen when the virus’s effect is suppressed and it is safe for staff and customers.

Weston said in time “we can rebuild the profits”, which is encouraging to read. However he does spell out the pressures food businesses, and, in particular, food factories and depots and drivers, are under since this pandemic began.

ABF businesses produce more food in the UK than any other organisation and in other countries for that matter. During the weeks of panic buying, the factories had to produce more than ever before. They have had to do so whilst reconfiguring factory layouts to ensure safe working while suffering from higher than normal absence.

It’s been said many a time but the willingness of people to double their workload while many are unwell and sit out this disease safely at home has been humbling. The food sector has also found ingenuity, and leadership from unexpected corners leading to a thorough examination of the robustness of the modern food chain.

Long may it continue. Now is not a time for complacency. We’re having to think differently to drive new outcomes.

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