Agriculture and Food

'Analyse, adapt and act' - the key ingredients for success in the food and drink sector

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 18 September 2020 10:25

'Analyse, adapt and act' - the key ingredients for success in the food and drink sector

If the business people who sat down to yesterday’s Gloucestershire food and drink sector webinar were hungry for advice beforehand, they left the table with plenty of positive food for thought. 

Delegates were still logging in to the online session right up until the start of the event - fittingly staged for a lunchtime sitting – in what was to be an hour-long conveyor belt of digestible titbits. 

Each dish was quickly broken down to its constituent ingredients in that way TV chefs seem to manage that leaves you thinking you too might be capable - which was the thurst of the webinar. 

Will Abbott, of accountants and business advisors Randall & Payne was master of ceremonies, describing the food and drink sector as one which was indeed facing unprecedented challenges but which was also ‘increasing important to the UK economy’.

Which is where Paul Drabble, of CBG Management Academy, stepped in to deliver and dissect, using his 30 years in the food and drink sector for corporates including Cadbury’s and family-run Ferrero to his recent role – focusing on helping SMEs thrive. 

“There is a lot going on. We have a mosaic of change in the sector with two thirds of customers lacking confidence, Government support schemes are winding down, businesses have gone through the cost-cutting, and many are looking now at rapid revenue recovery. 

“We have also seen significant changes in consumer behaviours, we have a need for new skills and for leadership,” said Mr Drabble, underlining for everyone there was no doubting just how significant the challenges were. 

If each guest at the webinar left with a fortune cookie the note would have contained the following matra: "Analyse, adapt and act."

Businesses able to achieve all three in the wake of the financial crisis had been able to grow significantly, said Mr Drabble, giving hope by way of comparison.


The pandemic, he said, had supercharged the significance of the digital market place and created a need for new skills within businesses which would need to be acquired either through training, recruitment or collaboration. 

And it had made paramount a new need - to identify what the new consumer wanted - and, like all of the above, to do it quickly.

Not leastm he said, because the opportunities were there.

“The independent sector grew 31 per cent inthe first half of the year,” he said. 

Search engine data showed a heavy swing towards health eating patterns, vegan food, local, independent brands and products.

Packaging and branding were hugely important then, but so too was a good consumer experience. These would encourage the allegience businesses needed from consumers and that other powerful element - the emergence of vital brand ambassadors.

Other businesses were already identifying emerging new markets, such as strong demand in supplying food and drink to the thousands now working from home. 

The home cooking market had surged during the pandemic. Those who could get in front of customers searching on-line had capitalised. 

How consumers were making their purchase decisions, down to detail including which search engines were the best drivers, were all points of consideration. 

Some potential opportunities, he said, were more obvious – such as the fast-approaching Christmas ‘gifting market’.

But bringing all this together was one single element no amount of data could deliver, and the skills of Mr Abbott and himself could only help focus – and that was leadership.

“When we talk about business modelling and funding I always think that is the easy part. Making it happen is the challenge,” said Mr Drabble, acknowledging where the effort would need to come from. 

“Leadership in this new era will require agility, financial resilience, but also human resilience. The change process is what a leader has to demonstrate. They have to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. 

They will have to have an entrepreneurial hat on and move away from traditional roles of leadership. 

“It is likely you won’t be able to do it all alone. Get help. Don’t get so close to the wall that you can’t see thebricks.

Mr Abbott said he and Mr Drabble could help firms analyse their own personal business cirumstances and develop a winning strategy - as well as direct them to the likes of GFirst LEP funding being distributed by The Growth Hub.

But he added recent Randall & Payne webinars had underlined the significance of the human factor in every company and how that needed to be nourished for everyone to succeed.

“We all feel a little bit outside of our comfort zone currently. We have had 20-30 clients flood into web chats, just to hear what other business people have to say.  

“Business people want to work together and they want to talk. They want to hear others stories,” said Mr Abbott. 

“I heard a quote the other day – success is 10 per cent strategy and 90 per cent action.

Mr Drabble added: “Do not underestimate the power of determination. If you have that, you can bring people along with you and make it happen.”