As the 9-to-5 workday fades, the food industry prepares to benefit

by Dr. Sylvain Charlebois
Troy Media

Humans are creatures of habit. Most of us are hardwired to leave our homes to go to a place of work, along with colleagues. Most never really questioned it.

Earning a living was about going through the endless commute, dealing with gossip and office politics, and working with people you like and dislike.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis surrounding it have made the inefficiencies of the normal 9-to-5 work day more obvious.

Almost a year after the pandemic came suddenly into our lives, reports suggest that many people are working longer hours while experiencing screen fatigue and the challenges of working remotely. Many have struggled to strike a balance between work and personal time when both are spent under the same roof.

Physical barriers that divided us from our workspace no longer exist for many of us.

In the process, employers and employees have realized that substantial savings can be achieved by using technologies that weren’t around just a few years ago. Now we have virtual meetings and conferences – some virtual conferences even get participants to create avatars when attending.

But attending virtual anything won’t get people to eat together or grab a coffee while chatting about work. You can’t feed an avatar.

Some conferences, therefore, are starting to send food and samples to participants at their homes so the experience can be synchronized between many addressees.

Whether it’s about sampling new food or offering a full meal delivered at the exact same time to meeting participants, the food service industry is more capable of supporting these types of events than before the pandemic.

Nothing will replace face-to-face meetings and conferences, obviously, and they will come back. But for cash-strapped organizations, or companies that can’t afford lavish hotels and restaurants, the technologies being developed today can help to get their feet through valuable doors. And the food service industry – catering, casual or fine dining players – can be part of this new trend.

Trying new products without the distraction that hyper-socialization brings at events can get potential customers to pay more attention.

The Reddit-GameStop situation points to how democratized information can change market conditions swiftly, regardless of how much capacity an organization has. It’s a new world.

Work flexibility is slowly becoming a thing. The flex option will allow employees to come into the office up to three days a week. An increasing number of companies are committing to getting employees to work from home most of the time, while visiting the workplace from time to time. The U.S. company Salesforce, which employs about 50,000 people, is the latest to do so.

The financial case for employers is just too strong for them to overlook opportunities that work-from-home or work-from-away can provide.

Since employers are looking for ways to trust employees when they can’t always see them, we all need to figure out how to foster social capital for ourselves as employers. That’s what the pandemic is forcing us to learn and food service can certainly support our workforce in transition.

The four-day work week is also being considered by a growing number of employers. A Harris Poll suggested that 82 per cent of employees would consider working more hours over four days instead of working fewer over five. Respondents felt it would make them more productive.

Traffic at grocery stores increases by 25 to 30 per cent on Saturdays and Sundays, essentially because most of us only have the weekend to shop for food.

Few of us enjoy grocery shopping on weekends, especially these days. Beyond the long lines at the cashier, by Sunday afternoon, empty shelves aren’t uncommon. In-store merchandizing and traffic management practices could improve to make our grocery experience much more enjoyable.

Online shopping is also likely to expend its footprint. Before COVID-19, about 1.7 per cent of all food was purchased online. Now, it’s almost four per cent. This also provides opportunities for companies to redefine their relationship with consumers, regardless of their roles within the supply chain.

Processors, startups, farmers’ markets and farmers now have a link to consumers without spending millions on marketing, thanks to COVID. That means more choice for consumers and more opportunities for all food players.

So if the 9-to-5 workday ends, good riddance. The food industry can only benefit over time.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.