Covid-19 has exposed the world’s fragile, complex food supply chains

In early July, as shops and restaurants were just beginning to open up again, I went to Suffolk to visit Hodmedod’s, a company that sells British-grown pulses and grains. Like many in the food sector, Josiah Meldrum, one of the three founders and directors, was coming up for air, trying to understand the magnitude of what has happened to his business this year and what the future would look like.

I sat at the table in the office kitchen while he put a pork belly in the oven for staff lunch. I could see the warehouse floor through an interior window, metal shelves neatly stacked with plastic bags of black-and-white carlin badger peas, yellow and orange split peas, green faro, red haricots.

“Everything changed overnight,” Meldrum recounted. “The moment [in March when] Boris Johnson said, ‘Don’t go to the pub’, we lost all our catering customers, 20 per cent of our business. At the same time, there was an extraordinary surge in online orders from home consumers — people sitting in their kitchens, worried they would never be able to buy flour again or realising they had time on their hands — they were furloughed and could start cooking.”

In that first week of lockdown, as supermarket shelves were cleared of staples such as flour, pasta, rice and tinned tomatoes,…

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