Philip Mayling, Director of MKG Foods, a leading UK independent, family-owned, foodservice distributor, says it’s time for the care home industry to reassess the resilience of its food supply chain following COVID-19.
The care home industry plays an important role in ensuring the happiness, health, and longevity of vulnerable people. It is no surprise then that the COVID-19 pandemic has been of great concern to care givers, because of the increased risk of transmission amongst elderly people, and those with certain medical conditions. There are also wider issues to consider, such as disruption to care home supply chains, which have been put under severe pressure as a result of the government’s lockdown.
When the lockdown was announced, many care homes, who primarily rely on supermarkets for their food purchases, were shocked to find they were not categorised as key workers. This meant they had to queue with the general public and risk becoming carriers of the virus. They also found it extremely difficult to obtain essential items in bulk such as bread, eggs, and antibacterial products.
Purchasing food online offered little respite, as securing a delivery slot meant staying up all night to compete against a panic buying public. Even if you were successful, you would have to go through the whole process again as there was no guarantee you would be scheduled another. As supermarket websites reached capacity, they frequently crashed, meaning orders could not be placed, adding to the level of uncertainty for caregivers and the wellbeing of their residents.
If a food delivery did arrive, ordered items that were sold out, were often replaced with unsuitable alternatives. This led Nadra Ahmed, the Executive Chairman of the National Care Association, to state that “choice has been cut back” and residents “were not getting food they necessarily liked”. For many people, an alternative is a cause for nothing more than a grumble, but for a vulnerable person, it can cause stress and even impact their health.
Professionalising your food supply chain
The pandemic has brought to light the importance of food security for the smooth running of care homes. Clearly, supermarkets, which are specifically designed to sell to the general public via a ‘one size fits all’ approach, cannot guarantee meeting the specific needs of care home providers.
Instead care givers are increasingly turning to quality food distributors, who have built a reputation for themselves, by gearing their business towards specific clientele and only focusing on quality food provision and delivery. That means no long waiting times for supermarket deliveries and the avoidance of shopping queues that put caregivers at risk.
If you are fortunate enough to work with a quality distributor, with an expertise in care home supply, you will have a partner that understands the challenges of feeding residents with allergen requirements, or health problems, such as dysphasia and dementia. In fact, some even offer training to cater for patients with swallowing issues, which makes them a great choice for small care homes with fewer resources.
Importantly, the level of technology that quality distributors use to make sure their operations are efficient and successful ensures that food can be ordered securely online and arranged quickly and regularly. If there are any problems with your order you will be automatically notified if an item is not in stock or if a delivery will be later than expected, allowing for suitable alternative arrangements to be made.
It is also important to note that when you use the services of another professional you become a client and that ensures accountability. If you have any problems, need support in an emergency or just want some advice, you can do so with your allocated a point of contact, who is responsible for understanding your business and how to best service it. Meetings with them can be held via video calls or social messaging networks like Zoom, so the convenience and safety of caregivers is prioritised, especially during a crisis.
Traversing the road ahead
Supermarkets excel at what they do and that is serve the general public. They are not specialist food providers and distributors. The pandemic has clearly revealed the importance of re-examining the resilience of your care home in an emergency and understanding who is best placed to serve the needs of your business, caregivers and residents.
The use of supermarkets, for example, should be a thing of the past, given that you can receive a more efficient, bespoke service that is going to cut costs. It is important to remember that food distributors benefit from economies of scale as they buy in bulk, so are more affordable. They also pass on further savings to their clients as a consequence of their investment in specialist technology and business model.
This will be especially important in the months ahead. With the economy facing a recession, a hard Brexit still on the table and the ever-present threat of a second COVID-19 spike. Therefore, care homes need to ensure they are doing everything they can to cut costs while delivering quality care. That means working with quality partners who will best support them in the tough times ahead.