5 minutes with Ian Proudfoot

KPMG Global Head of Agribusiness

What do you think the biggest change in consumer behaviour has been over the last 4 months or will be in the future?

There are two changes that stand out for me. The first is around health. We have been in an  environment where for many weeks we were receiving constant messaging about keeping yourself healthy. During that time, the only influence you had on your health was keeping yourself sheltered and considering what food you put into your body, so there is a real connection back to the role that food plays in protecting health. I think that will become more of an important attribute for consumer purchases around the world. If a food producer can tell a story about how their products support immunity, they can create some real value moving forward.

The second big trend I'm seeing is around the safety of food. People are going to be looking for  greater trust and confidence in food that hasn't been handled too much through the supply chain. I think we will see a shift away from the current trend of unpackaged food to packaged, unhandled food.


How do you think a shift in packaging trends will impact on the environment?

It's an interesting point as obviously more plastic in circulation has the potential for more waste so I think we will see an uplift in significant innovation around sustainable packing or packaging that's designed to be circular in nature. One of the interesting outcomes of this whole event is that we saw people back away from 'keepcups' or bring-your-own purchasing systems because of the disease potentially being on the material's surface. Once we get through this initial period of extreme uncertainty around everything, we can see renewable and reusable packaging becoming the norm as opposed to the exception.


Has your own behaviour changed since COVID-19?

I would say yes, I'm still slightly nervous about doing things that I would have done quite happily pre-COVID-19.

I'm more comfortable using digital means to source things that I normally would have picked up, for example we have been ordering fresh fish online as opposed to getting it from the supermarket as it's better quality.


What is "food insecurity" and how does this fit in the New Zealand context?

Food insecurity is a significant issue that comes up when I talk to governments all around the world, but in the West, it has been taken for granted. We were suddenly faced with queues to get into supermarkets and  empty shelves; even though that's not the case anymore, we do have food insecurity issues in New Zealand.

We have close to 1 million people in this country that don't have access to sufficient food, which is scary in a country of only 5 million. We grow a lot of food and export a lot of food but haven't thought about how we feed our 5 million first.

I am arguing strongly for a national food strategy from the New Zealand Government as there needs to be a broad focus on how food fits into our society. New Zealand is quite unique in that we rely on growing and selling food to the world to create our wealth, but we also have some of the worst health outcomes in any developed country, like heart disease and diabetes. This means we need to get food right in our country.


What opportunities are now presenting themselves for farmers and growers?

The rise in digital allows farmers and growers to start connecting directly to consumers. The "digital high street" has a barrier of entry that is a lot lower in comparison to traditional high street trade so there is an opportunity to tell your story and position yourself as a "farmers' market supplier" to the world.

I think the most important points right now are that people have become more connected with food and farmers around the world have been recognisedas essential workers. People are valuing  the contribution farmers make as opposed to challenging them. Farmers can build on this social goodwill and we can position ourselves to take the industry forward in a sustainable way that benefits all New Zealanders.


With such global disruption, how can New Zealand agriculture continue to make its mark internationally?

Global influence will be challenging as we are stuck here for a period of time — we aren't going to be travelling out of the country for quite a while. We need to make sure we aren't becoming isolationists. I'm a little bit concerned about the 'buy local' campaigns we are seeing, as although I understand why they are happening, New Zealand ultimately relies on selling products to the world to gain our wealth. We need to be viewed as an open, fair trader that accepts products from the rest of the world and sells our products out. We are a country who believe passionately in free trade and the benefits it brings to wider society, so we need to be careful that's not lost.

To do this we need to immerse people in a New Zealand experience without having them physically in the country. There is an opportunity to do this digitally and it's important that the Government supports this, as they have an embassy network across the world that can connect with consumers in other markets.


What are your key messages for success going forward?

There are a couple of things that stand out to me:

  • We've been through this massive societal change so whatever you do in your operation you do need to be applying a COVID-19 lens to it, in order to ensure people feel safe in the experience that you're delivering.
  • You need to figure out how digital capabilities feature in your business strategy.
  • It is important not to hold back on sustainability goals. As a generation, we are going to be assessed on how we respond to climate change, not how we recovered from the COVID-19 situation.

History will look back and ask —did we do the right thing in relation to the climate? We have some bold aspirations in New Zealand about where we wish to get to as a nation, in terms of heading towards zero  Carbon.

So, anything you do now, you need to ask how it's helping you become a more sustainable operation.

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