COVID-19 brought the hospitality industry to a standstill. As of early July, one in five Amsterdam (NL) restaurants, cafés, bars, and caterers could not afford to reopen and the industry’s yearly turnover is predicted to decline by over 30 percent. Dutch potato farmers found themselves with a surplus of one billion kilograms and meat producers with cold stores filled to the brim.
The vulnerability of food supply chains, the dominance of climate-intensive agriculture, and alarming levels of food waste the COVID-19 crisis put a spotlight on many of the food sector’s existing issues. A report powered by Amsterdam Impact, the City of Amsterdam’s impact entrepreneurship program, the DOEN Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality investigates the impact of the COVID-19 crisis for the food sector and their stakeholders.
COVID-19’s impact on entrepreneurs
Food entrepreneurs responded to the crisis by accelerating collaboration, distribution, and development. Among the most common partnerships were online, direct-to-consumer food boxes, such as Support Your Locals or the Karma Box. The increased digital reach brought new demand and focus or led to the scaling of online sales. After providing its plant-based fast cuisine to healthcare workers, restaurant Jack Bean is considering a healthy meal delivery service, while vegan cheese producer Willicroft’s orders doubled thanks to its new online store.
Successful meal and food boxes, although not a permanent fix, embody the power of collaboration. The COVID-19 crisis has also lowered the cooperation threshold for entrepreneurs and their stakeholders. Too Good to Go connected with the Slow Food Youth Network. In less than two weeks, they managed to resupply 20,000 kilograms of potatoes at the NDSM Wharf that would have otherwise been wasted. The mountain of potatoes was sold in just a few hours.
Accelerating the food transition
Despite positive developments, the transition to a more resilient food system for the city is not a given. New coalitions and consumer interest in local food may not hold after the Covid-19 crisis. So how can companies keep working together as an ecosystem to maintain and even accelerate the pace of change?
Getting more ecosystem actors to collaborate from an equal footing is key. “It is now more important than ever to strengthen the connection between social enterprises and other companies. In this way, we can further develop the ecosystem, make it more diverse and co-create solutions as equal partners”, says Ellen Oetelmans, Program Manager of Amsterdam Impact, the City of Amsterdam’s entrepreneurship program.
Responsible procurement boosts the sales and impact of sustainable food entrepreneurs. “In these times, we are calling for the purchase of products and services from social entrepreneurs as part of Buy Social activities we co-create with Social Enterprise NL”, says Ellen. “As finance providers, governments, network organizations with sustainable ambitions we must be at the forefront and lead by example,” adds Manon Klein, Impact Hub Amsterdam’s Programs Lead.
Adjusted financing criteria that, in addition to economic returns, account for social and environmental value, can give sustainable food entrepreneurs a competitive boost. For instance, investor Orange Capital Partners recently decided that Amsterdam-based lunch restaurant Happy Tosti could pay part of its rent in social impact. “Working on social and environmental value is often welcomed, but it does not always translate into returns or prices that can compete with businesses that do not take these values into account”, explains Manon.
New regulations and financial support can also give the transition momentum. “A piece of legislation and new regulations are essential for startups and new partnerships. Campaigns and awareness play a role, but the most important is money for support. The risk for sustainable farmers, for example, is greater in the beginning, when they may generate less income. This requires transition capital,” adds Maarten Derksen, program manager at the DOEN Foundation.
Read the full report for additional insights.