Canada public health report shows COVID-19’s impact on food and beverage industry

A new report published by the Government of Canada has put the spotlight on, among other things, the devastating effect that COVID-19 has had on the food and beverage and hospitality industries in 2020.

The annual report of the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada (CPHO) provides an opportunity to examine the state of public health in the country. This year, of course, it comes under the vast shadow of the global pandemic.

Among the myriad data assessed and conclusions drawn, there was a stark outlook at the foodservice industry.

Impact on food service work

The report notes that in August, the overall unemployment rate in Canada was 10.2%, up from 5.6% in February but down considerably from May’s high of 13.7%. These levels, though, are still far worse than were seen during the 2008-09 economic recession. Then, unemployment rose to 8.7% in June 2009, up from 6.2% in October 2008. Frighteningly, though, even then, it took approximately nine years for employment to return to pre-recession levels.

Analysis of payroll data for March 2020 demonstrated that the service sector was hardest hit by the economic slowdown resulting from the pandemic, with the majority of these job losses among women. The report notes this is largely due to the fact that workers in the service sector are less likely to be able to work from home.

From February to March, a staggering 41% of payroll employment declines were in the food services and accommodation and wholesale and retail trades (two sectors with the lowest average weekly earnings). Almost 90% of the one million Canadians working in low-wage, non-unionized hourly paid jobs in April worked outside the home: two-thirds worked in the above two industries, where jobs frequently require close physical contact.

With gradual reopening across Canada through the summer, low-wage jobs have increased. However, in August, the employment rate for low-wage workers remained far lower than pre-pandemic levels (87.4%), compared with all other employees (99.1%, not seasonally adjusted).

Access to food

Food insecurity, which can include being worried about running out of food as well as missing meals or going without food, is a reality for many people in Canada.

Preliminary data suggest that income loss triggered by COVID-19 is increasing household food insecurity. Data from the Canadian Perspectives Survey in May 2020 (Wave 2, collected May 4-10, 2020) found that food insecurity was significantly higher among survey respondents during COVID-19 compared to the Canadian Community Health Survey 2017-2018 results (14.6% versus 10.5%).

Canadians who were employed during the survey time period but not working due to closure, layoff, or personal circumstances related to COVID-19 were more likely to be food insecure (28.4% compared to 10.7% of those who were working). Additionally, households with children were more likely to experience food insecurity (19.2%) compared to those without children (12.2%).

In addition to income loss, the report notes there are broader community factors that may influence food access. Some isolated communities are already struggling with precarious food supply chains, limited availability of fresh foods, and high food prices, a situation that could be worsened by COVID-19. Currently, food banks, which are an important resource for many food-insecure households, are struggling to maintain and expand their capacity to provide emergency food to those in need. With schools closed during shutdown periods, children may have also lost an important opportunity to access healthy foods through school food programs.

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