Institute of Grocery Distribution publishes new report outlining long-term risks to a resilient UK food system

Grocery retail research and consultancy organisation IGD has published a new report outlining long-term risks to a resilient food system in the UK.

A System Under Pressure: an Overview of Long-Term Risks to the UK Food System  is designed to help food business leaders and policy makers understand and articulate the biggest challenges faced, such as talent attraction, climate change, land use, agricultural production and tech, IGD said.

Communicating the complexity and fragility of the food chain, from farm to fork, is a challenge that IGD says it, together with its stakeholders, has discussed at length. As such, the report, published yesterday (21 March), forms part of a wider scheme of work to inform, inspire and support in the area of food industry resilience.

Naomi Kissman, social impact director at IGD, said: ”Understanding the complex, interconnected risks across the whole food system is challenging and this report seeks to support better understanding.

”Only when we look at the whole system, from farm to fork, taking a birds-eye view of the issues at play, can we build resilience in an increasingly fragile world. Mitigating the risks in this climate of rapid change will require us all to work together in collaboration and that’s what IGD does well.’

The report covers risks relating to both people and planet, addressing themes that will be both familiar and less familiar to food industry leaders and decision-makers, including: climate, agriculture, disease, biodiversity loss, labour and skills, geopolitics and cybersecurity, IGD said.

The challenge of attracting new talent to UK food has received greater attention since 2023’s Independent Review into Labour Shortages in the UK Food Supply Chain and continues to be a current burning issue. The deficit of technical and digital skills in the workforce is also mirrored by a greater need for the food and consumer goods industry to modernise its cyber, logistics, automation, and data reporting operations.

In alignment with IGD’s Economic Viewpoint, retail and shopper insights, the report also details the economic issues faced by retailers. Margin pressure and availability continue to be pervasive among the concerns of businesses across the supply-chain, from producers to retailers, processers, manufacturers, and service operators.

The impact of geopolitics on food constitutes another chapter, highlighting the interdependent nature of the global food supply chain and how conflict influences supply - from the price of farming inputs such as fertiliser, to the availability of shopping basket staples.

The report unpacks the increasing impacts of climate change on food supply and the pressure for companies to reach Net Zero targets while meeting reporting compliance.

The age of farmers (42 per cent being over 60) and the Government’s new environmental land management scheme, ELMS, will mean that a period of challenge and adjustment is expected over the next few years. Access to the amount of capital needed to support farm production will be a constant issue. Factors of biodiversity and water scarcity also come into play and the report explores these, with reference to modern agriculture being the primary driver of poor soil health.

The little discussed topic of disease is also explained in the report, with international trade and current farming systems leaving crops vulnerable to new disease variants. On top of this, legislation-based challenges, such as the new Target Operating Model of border checks are described alongside lack of genetic diversity as risks that will need to be mitigated.

Matthew Stoughton-Harris, head of corporate affairs at IGD, said: ”We encourage industry leaders to use the chapters of this report as trusted background research when planning and decision-making. As the food industry comes together to solve some of the important challenges of our times, IGD is here to support, driving collaboration and supplying crucial insight that offers a neutral perspective on these critical topics.”

You can download the report here.