Coping with COVID-19: ‘Inspiring, creative and innovative solutions’ from food makers in the North Sea region

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

New solutions across Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands support local producers during coronavirus crisis / Pic: GettyImages-Zbynek Pospisil
New solutions across Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands support local producers during coronavirus crisis / Pic: GettyImages-Zbynek Pospisil

Related tags: coronavirus, COVID-19, Local production, Local food

The coronavirus pandemic has placed considerable strain on small and medium sized food producers. Many have responded with ‘inspiring, creative and innovative solutions’. REFRAME takes us on a tour of how SMEs in the North Sea region have adjusted their business models.

REFRAME brings together 10 partners from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden with the aim of creating better conditions for food related SMEs, supporting regional food chains and local employment.

The project, an Interreg project supported by the EU North Sea Region Programme, has collected examples of how food producers have been forced to adapt in the face of coronavirus disruption, including the closure of the key out-of-home distribution channel.

“Food producers have been forced to change their course and come up with new ways to sell their products or come up with new concepts, or new distribution channels,”​ the European Union-funded project noted.

The Netherlands: Local food box scheme

When restaurants and the catering industry shut down in the Netherlands it had an immediate affect on small-scale farmers who supply these foodservice businesses.

Responding to this loss of orders – and in a bid to avoid food waste as well as recover revenue – two initiatives in the Netherlands decided to work together to find a solution.

The local food market in Groningen, called Lokaal Kilo’s Schuiven - which means 'shifting kilos of food locally' - teamed up with the online platform De Streekboer from Drachten, where you order products directly from local farmers and collect the products at a collection point in the area.

Together they came up with ‘The Food Box’, which is filled with local products from farmers. Products that would otherwise be wasted because the regular sales channels are closed due to the coronavirus crisis found a new outlet.

The food box contains bread, dairy, fruit and two evening meals, including recipes and information about the farmers who supply the products.

“The Food Box has been an immediate success and sold over 700 boxes within the first week,”​ REFRAME noted.

Sweden: New retail opportunities for small scale food producers

According to REFRAME, across the North Sea region supermarkets have worked to help small-scale food producers that have been hit by the decline of the restaurant and tourism industry.

Major supermarkets in Sweden including Coop, ICA, Bergendahls, Axfood and Lidl have all indicated that they are willing to help the small local producers. This is being achieved by creating more space for local food on the store shelves and by giving local food more publicity in the media.

“With the help of REFRAME, the regional food agency in West Sweden, locally produced in West, is now focusing on helping the local food producers to seize this opportunity, and quickly reach out with their products to the major supermarkets. This is done by acting as an intermediary that connects buyers and sellers.”

Belgium: Local market goes online

In Belgium, the organisers behind the weekly farmers market ‘Lokaalmarkt’ have launched a new digital concept.

Because of the coronavirus crisis, the Lokaalmarkt could not continue as usual. The organisers therefore decided to focus on online selling.

“In a very short amount of time, they managed to set up an online shop where customers can order groceries from the exhibitors at the market. In this way, the consumers can still buy a wide range of local products from many different local producers in one place,”​ REFRAME said.

Each Friday, shoppers can collect their orders at the location where the market normally takes place, following the click-and-collect model. “In this way, the Lokaalmarkt has managed to keep the whole organisation going by continuing to offer fresh products and supporting the local economy.”

Denmark: ‘Taste of Denmark’ takeaway menus

Take-away and home-delivery from webshops, restaurants and specialty food retailers offering pre-cooked meals have boomed in Denmark during the COVID-19 crisis and, REFRAME suggested, this situation is expected to continue ‘for quite some time’.

To stimulate direct to consumer sales from local producers, ‘Taste of Denmark menus’ have been introduced. Menus are composed of convenience products from different producers all of which can be found on a common webshop.

“The menus are a response to an emerging market, it offers a presentation of products from a variety of innovative food-SMEs and it builds coherence among food producers from the whole country presenting themselves on the same webshop and using the same distribution logistics.”

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