Providing a blueprint for survival to London's food SMEs

Adri Bester, LSBU’s Senior Food Technologist and Lead Academic for the London Agri-Food Innovation Clinic (LAFIC), is working with local food businesses to help them adapt to the shifting landscape created by COVID-19.

From the outset of the pandemic, the primary concern for all food and hospitality organisations was a financial one, with a number of nationwide chains forced to close permanently, and many smaller businesses facing collapse.

The Government stepped in to provide some assurances and financial assistance but that was addressing just one area of a multi-faceted issue, with many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) facing disruption to their supply chains, arranging deferrals or renegotiating terms on leases, placing key members on furlough, and even extending loans and seeking other funding options – all while trying to maintain day-to-day operations.

Pure Foods of London provide fresh sandwiches to organisations across the city, including crucial NHS frontline services and the importance of assisting Pure Foods was clear to Adri and the LAFIC team, "A number of small food manufacturers had already closed, it looked like Pure Foods would be next. As a supplier in to the NHS we prioritised our work with them to hopefully continue an important supply chain and feed key workers."

The Problem

Every ingredient in Pure Food's sandwiches is fresh – right down to their hand-made marinades and sauces. Their reliance on a streamlined supply chain, workforce and delivery infrastructure cannot be underestimated. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, Pure Foods discovered that their Safe and Local Supplier Approval Accreditation (SALSA) certificates were about to expire. With all SALSA standards audits suspended, they needed to quickly provide evidence to gain an extension.

SALSA is required by many regional and national buyers, Pure Foods faced the prospect of their reduced production being halted altogether.

“We saw our production change from 15,000 units per day to under 200 in one week. We had no work for our staff” – Ilan Bregar, Director, Pure Foods of London

The Response

Adri quickly put together a comprehensive plan to ensure that Pure Foods could continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundamental to Adri's response was a new risk management process that considered the myriad of dangers associated with preparing food during COVID-19. From this a new Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) process manual was created, with Adri ensuring that all Pure Foods’ staff were trained in the new procedures.

With the new processes in place, Adri then collated and presented the information required to ensure Pure Foods received the extension to their SALSA certificate, and therefore ensure the continuation of food production at Pure Foods for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

"Thanks to LAFIC and LSBU, we have had to furlough less of our staff. Our production has increased to over 500 units, and we are proud to be supporting the Government’s COVID-19 Management Plan by feeding the Imperial College researchers every day."

Next Step

As Adri states: "COVID-19 will continue to be extremely disruptive to the food and hospitality industry, sadly for some businesses this is the end, but for others opportunities are ripe for growth, providing they have the right systems and procedures in place."

With the learnings from the collaboration with Pure Foods, and the comprehensive response plan in place, Adri and the LAFIC Team can now quickly apply the methodology to similar food and hospitality SMEs, reducing the lag when responding to similar issues, saving time, money and countless jobs.

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