Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
©FAO/Ansen Ward

COVID-19, FLW and New Ways of Retailing

Ansen Ward, 29 May 2020

COVID-19 is changing the way fish is sold to and purchased by consumers. Its perhaps too early to say whether this is having an impact on food loss and waste (FLW). But do these new final point of sale changes provide an opportunity to influence or reinforce new consumer behaviour trends? 

Mobile apps and online services for take-away, click and collect, home delivery / direct online sales, and drive through markets are all being given a boost by COVID-19. Normal food service channels for seafood have all but disappeared.

Wholesalers are adapting. Rather than mainly supplying restaurants, they are switching to direct sales to the end consumer. Online sales direct to the consumer can mean popular high value fish can be purchased at discount prices. Restaurants have turned to takeout and delivery as an alternative to closure.

At the same time consumers in some countries are: cooking more, are more cost conscious due to reduced or uncertain incomes, making better use of their freezers, valuing food more and are becoming more aware of accurate portion sizes when serving. There is an interest in knowing how to cook, store and make the most of food, including fish!

There is an opportunity for the food industry to ensure that any positive changes in consumer habits continue by giving people the support, skills and knowledge they need during this transition period.

Wholesalers and food service operators could take a leaf out of the large retailers’ book and reinforce these behaviour changes by providing easily understood messages and information about why FLW occurs and how to prevent it at the consumer level. This could include information on fish preparation and recipes, how to utilize by-products such as heads, as well as good chilling and freezing practices. Such information could be provided on leaflets that accompany the product, via online and social media as well as on the product packaging. 

The true effect of COVID-19 on FLW remains to be seen, but consumption habits in some countries have certainly been impacted as retailers and consumers alike adjust to the pandemic. More, however, needs to be understood about the impact and behaviour changes of consumers in less developed and developing countries where switching to online and direct sales is not so easy and access to fish for consumers maybe being seriously impeded.