MANHATTAN, KAN. — More than three-quarters of senior level North American food and beverage executives are actively preparing for a future global pandemic, according to a new study by AIB International.

The survey of 325 senior level North American executives was conducted by Research Strategy Group on behalf of AIB International.

According to the survey, 78% of food and beverage executives are actively preparing for a future global pandemic, with 30% expecting another one within the next four years and 50% expecting one within the next decade.

“Even after the past year of disruption, almost half of respondents indicated they are still not adequately prepared with a plan for the future,” said Anne Coulter, managing director of Research Strategy Group. “Combined with the fact that 30% believe another global pandemic will occur in next four years — and a full 50% say within the next 10 years — that lack of preparedness is startling. Further, 62% of respondents experienced an increase in operating costs due to the pandemic, while the average increase among these companies was 20%.”

The survey also found 61% of respondents said their company did not have an adequate plan in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic when it began. Meanwhile, 62% of respondents said they were not “very prepared” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This included 83% of respondents from the retail industry, 57% of respondents from processing/manufacturing, and 66% from packaging, storage and distribution, import/export and other.

Seventy-six percent of companies with annual revenue of $1 billion or more reported an increase in operating costs, compared to 62% of companies overall.

Overall, 19% of companies surveyed realized an increase in operating costs and a decrease in revenue, while another 43% saw an increase in operating costs and no decline in revenue. The survey found two causes of increased operating costs mentioned most often: 75% of companies noted that PPE/updated work environments to meet COVID-19 protocols increased their operating costs, while 74% noted that sanitation increased their operating costs.

One third of companies surveyed saw a decrease in revenue, and among those the average decrease was 27%.

Steve Robert, global vice president of product innovation at AIB International, said the research highlights the dramatic impacts felt by so many companies in the industry due to a lack of preparedness.

“Despite the understandable ‘crisis fatigue’ from grappling with COVID-19 over the past year, it’s clear that now is the time to prepare for the future and elevate critical planning to a best-in-class standard,” Mr. Robert said. “Should a future pandemic occur, improved preparedness will help offset some of the costs and disruption that so many operations have realized over the past year.”

AIB's Pandemic Prepared Certification logoIn July 2020, AIB International introduced a Pandemic Prepared Certification for food and beverage manufacturers. The program is intended to provide assurances to employees, insurance providers, retailers and consumers that companies are committed to establishing and maintaining best practices during a global event similar to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The certification addresses five key areas: pandemic crisis management, health crisis mitigation and management, food safety continuity, supply chain disruption, and intermittent operations.

Saudi Arabia-based Almarai Co. was the first company in the world to receive the Pandemic Prepared Certification, receiving the recognition in October 2020. More recently, Lesaffre’s North American corporate office in Milwaukee received the Pandemic Prepared Certification for Corporate Offices. According to AIB International, achieving the certification demonstrates that Lesaffre has prioritized employee health, well-being and safety, which will build employee confidence and support for their return to working in the office.

Research Strategy Group is an international market research and insights consultancy with offices in North America and the United Kingdom, offering consulting services to major global corporations, governments, and industry advocates