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[Webinar Recap] What can F&B startups and SMEs do for business continuity?

April 20, 2020

In the first of our webinar series to help startup and SME founders in Asia navigate the challenges of COVID-19, we’ve brought together founders in F&B and agtech to share their own experiences in business continuity planning for their own businesses -  Euclid Teng of Prime Pacific Foods in the Philippines and YD Lee of Tsaitung Agriculture in Taiwan. They also provided expert insights into broader trends in operations management and in the food distribution space.

Watch the full webinar here: link

There is no doubt that the food industry provides an essential good. But, what happens when a global pandemic strikes, supply chains everywhere are disrupted, and consumer movement is massively restricted?

These are the main challenges for business operators in the F&B industry. Their operations run from sourcing supplies down to getting their products to a food establishment, retail store, or the consumer. They not only are the backbone of their economies but are also necessary establishments for society.

How have founders in this space dealt with these business continuity challenges?

Keep reading for the key takeaways and insights from our webinar.

Business Continuity Takeaways

1. Prepare to make major changes to your business model

The F&B sector has massively shrunk in many countries by as much as 70% in some cases. However, adapting to the shift in the business environment makes your business more likely to weather the storm.

For example, shifting from a B2B to a B2C model is an essential measure for food distributors whose main distribution channels aren’t operational. This is now entirely possible as tech-enabled last mile delivery services, e-commerce platforms, and payment solutions have become more widespread and accessible across the region. You no longer need to build your own logistical infrastructure to pull off a new mode of distribution.

2. Be creative – it will open new doors

In the era of social distancing as a safety measure, it’s a given that consumer behaviour will change since only essential activity and consumption are either possible or encouraged.

Are consumers less keen to spend on upscale meals? Are they cooking at home more? How often do they go out to buy food and food ingredients? What’s their main method of acquiring food? Always keep track of factors such as these so you’re able to best serve your customers and create a loyal and growing customer base. During this time, consumers will always remember those that have helped and identified with them the most.

On-demand delivery services have been the lifeline for both businesses and consumers during lockdowns.

3. Keeping team morale up is crucial, but sometimes hard decisions have to be made

Business continuity doesn’t just depend on material resources – it requires a dedicated team to pull it off. By its nature, a team is a collection of individuals working toward a singular goal. It’s imperative that leadership builds a culture of trust and sets a strong direction for teams to move towards.

On an operational level, make sure it’s possible for your team to do their best work at a critical time. Upholding health and sanitation best practices and providing a safe workplace is a strict requirement.

When necessary, see that your team's means of transportation and accommodation are adequate as well, and doesn’t expose them to additional risk. This holds even truer for food service, where employees interface with the public regularly, and so are put at risk on a regular basis.

However, when the operations of an entire division are severely hampered by further restrictions in conducting business, business owners are sometimes left with no choice but to consider salary cuts or staff downsizing measures. There is no easy way around it, but handle decisions that materially impact the livelihood of your team with as much tact and humility as possible.

4. Be realistic with spending and projections

Being honest with stakeholders, such as suppliers, is important so that both parties can quickly figure out a way to manage bottlenecks. This also means you always have to be planning around a scenario where supply is greatly reduced, and you’ll have less to work with.

In general, prepare projections based on different scenarios and plan for mitigation measures that can be realistically executed.

Reallocate expenditures in marketing efficiently. Decide which channels won’t work for you in the meantime, and move that budget to a channel that will make the most impact (such as from food shows to e-commerce). You should also look at building partnerships with larger companies with a complementary offering, since they will already have a larger reach and budget.

5. Digital transformation doesn’t have to cost much

Businesses in many industries have not only had to pivot their entire business model, they also have had to switch to remote work almost overnight and deliver results. It’s a daunting task. Having a million options for collaboration tools on the cloud in 2020 makes it much more so for a newly remote team.

It’s worth remembering the main tenets of SaaS pricing. Most tools are usually available for free and higher pricing tiers usually mean additional features. Keep your tech stack lightweight, and ideally have a suite of tools that integrate with each other so that information doesn’t fall through the cracks. Our speakers mentioned using G Suite for collaboration, Trello for task management, LINE Business for communicating with clients and suppliers, and Shopify for transitioning to e-commerce quickly.

(Obviously, there are regional variations with recommended tools. Let us know what has worked best with you through this 20-second survey - link)

And, as mentioned earlier, partnering with larger companies, or delivering your solution on top of theirs, lets you benefit from their existing tech infrastructure and create more efficiencies for you, especially as you build out a new business model.

6. Embrace the role you play within society

There are a number of ways F&B and agtech businesses have supported their local communities. Some have donated meals to hospitals, leveraged their capabilities to get food to communities in need efficiently, diverted unused supplies from restaurants, or helped small farms with distribution.

Playing an active role in the community greatly helps in creating an encouraging business environment, even in trying times.

The means may be different but the motive remains the same - get food supplies to the consumer.

We’ve hopefully shared some actionable takeaways for business continuity planning for startups and SMEs in the F&B industry. Make sure to watch the full webinar if you want to dig deeper into these topics and hear on-the-ground insights!

Stay in the loop

We have more webinars lined up for our Business Continuity for Startups and SMEs series. Sign up to our invite list here if you’d like to get our full schedule: link