Professional Comment

Automation and Digitisation in the Food Industry is the Way Forward in Post-Covid Era

By Kunal Sawhney, CEO of Kalkine (

The biggest contributor from the manufacturing sector to the UK’s economy is the food and beverage industry, employing 450,000 workers. It contributes more than £43.7 billion GVA, but the biggest challenge facing the sector is an acute staff shortage due to post-Brexit tougher labour rules as well as the Covid-19 impact.

Britain is facing its worst labour crisis since the late 1990s. Accountancy firm KPMG and Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) have said the number of workers available fell in June at the fastest pace since 1997. Labour crisis can pose a serious threat to the economic recovery the nation is aiming to achieve post Covid.


Hiring firms have found that employers are finding it difficult to recruit kitchen porters, chefs, warehouse staff, and cleaners. As restrictions were eased, the hurry to open up the economy post lockdown is creating bottlenecks. Covid- 19 border rules have resulted in fewer workers from the EU travelling to Britain combined with post-Brexit immigration rules.

As the post-Covid reality stands, these bottlenecks can be cleared up significantly with more digitisation in the food and beverages industry.The global food supply chain must be made more resilient, and in order to achieve that, there has to be a complete acceptance that the world would not be going back to what it used to be before.

To make supply chains more robust, food retailers must build robust last-mile delivery systems. Digital penetration has to be optimised because delay in delivery can cost businesses heavily in times of tough digital com- petition.To optimise the delivery charges as well as achieve timely delivery, a greater degree of warehouse automation is required.This would enable delivery partners to share real-time shipment status with buyers online. If brick-and-motor stores adopt automation in a greater capacity, it could give in-store buyers a safe and smooth buying experience.


For food manufacturers, production costs would shoot up because of staff shortage as well as an increase in the cost of ingredients. It’s difficult for businesses to pass on these costs to consumers because the food industry is highly competitive.To fix this, complete integration of robotics systems and automation with a process control mechanism that is completely digitised, would bring down production costs significantly, facilitating better efficiency in food manufacturing, while at the same time minimise food and energy wastage.

Covid has also made people more conscious about the food choices that they make. More and more people are realising the benefits of eating healthy and nutritious food. In the post Covid world, to win back con- sumers’ faith, restaurants and food manufacturers would have to share more with consumers about a food’s journey from the farm to the table.To do this, the internet of things (IoT) would have to be used throughout the value chain. IoT would help in collecting and presenting data that businesses would be able to use to make data-driven decisions and processes.

Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything, from how we do business to how we socialise.The world as we knew it had been replaced with a new model. Businesses have been ravaged because of the economic fallout. To overcome it and be able to survive in new world order, businesses, especially the food and beverage sector, would have to reinvent themselves and adopt automation more assiduously. Innovation and automation would then be able to help ride out the post-Covid era.