You’ve no doubt seen the headlines about COVID-19’s impact on world economies and experienced Hong Kong’s unusually quiet streets and shops. Even as most of us try to get on with our daily lives (albeit armed with masks, sanitiser and stringent hand-washing habits) and delicious new restaurants continue to open their doors, it’s hard not to notice the spate of closures both temporary and permanent, from heavyweight institutions to neighbourhood favourites.
In the midst of these disquieting times, we wanted to hear first-hand from our F&B friends and colleagues as to how they are really coping with the current coronavirus crunch. Responses to our recent F&B Business Sentiment Survey came from across the food industry, from suppliers to restaurateurs, marketing to management, single-outlet businesses to chain stores. Here’s what they said:
Foodie’s F&B Business Sentiment Survey 2020 results
The responses to this question were overwhelmingly clear: COVID-19’s impact has been resoundingly negative, differing only in the matter of extent. We were curious though – how does COVID-19 compare with the months of protests that came before it?
While the protests in Hong Kong certainly also had a negative impact on the F&B industry, this was generally not as severe as compared to COVID-19.
With Hong Kong residents being encouraged to go out less often in order to reduce the community spread of COVID-19, many F&B businesses have reportedly turned to food delivery to help to tide them over during these tricky times. So we asked:
Our respondents were fairly split on this front, with many noting little or no impact from food delivery. Several respondents also recalled that deliveries were problematic during the Hong Kong protests, when the often unpredictable nature of the movement and its resultant disruptions meant that delivery demand dropped by as much as 50% and deliveries would often be suddenly cancelled if protests broke out.
We also asked respondents what measures they have taken to reassure their employees and customers. Additional sanitisation practices have overwhelmingly been put into place by the majority of our respondents, and some also cited work-from-home arrangements for office-based staff.
What then, we asked, is the biggest challenge faced by F&B businesses at the moment? Unsurprisingly, more than 90% of respondents pointed to the lack of customers and demand:
Besides Hong Kong residents staying home more and eating out less, visitor arrivals (and correspondingly, demand for F&B in Hong Kong) have also taken a tremendous hit. A record 65.1 million visitors came to Hong Kong in 2018 – some nine times the size of Hong Kong’s resident population of about seven million. While 2019 visitor arrivals were originally projected to surpass even 2018’s record, the picture looked very different by the year’s end. Visitor arrivals for December 2019 fell by 51.5% compared to December 2018, and the statistics are only getting bleaker. Preliminary reports have suggested that visitor arrivals in February 2020 have fallen by around 99% compared to the same period last year. And with the current spread of COVID-19 around the world showing little signs of abatement, we can’t imagine that visitor arrivals will be picking up anytime soon.
Amidst what has felt like months of negative news, what do F&B business insiders see as the outlook for the future of Hong Kong's F&B industry?
Most respondents, it seems, have yet to make up their minds as to whether this downturn has irrevocably altered Hong Kong’s F&B space in the near term, although optimism can be hard to come by during such challenging times.
All consumers have different appetites for both flavour and risk. While many Hong Kong diners have stayed away from restaurants and public places (except supermarkets and pharmacies!), al-fresco and well-ventilated eateries (think The Pulse at Repulse Bay) have often remained busy in the previous weeks, while there have been queues outside places like Cinnabon, The Pizza Project and KiKi Noodle Bar.
What can foodies do to support their favourite local restaurants during this time?
If your risk appetite permits and you’re not ill or required to self-quarantine, pay a visit to your regular haunts, but exercise common sense, consideration and good personal hygiene. Or order your go-to dishes to go, whether in-store or through one of the myriad of delivery services now available. Prefer to stay digital? Positive reviews on social platforms are always helpful and appreciated.
Foodie’s annual Foodie Forks awards for the best of Hong Kong’s F&B industry are also just around the corner – nominate your top choices and show your favourite F&B spots some love as we celebrate those working daily and innovating in the kitchen during these difficult times.
At the time of writing, spring (or at least, heat and humidity) seems to be coming to Hong Kong (even though it can be difficult to tell for sure considering our warm “winter”, if you can even call it that). Compared to just a few weeks ago, when the city was in the grip of toilet-paper panic, shops and supermarket shelves are now chock-full of all supplies except masks, crowds appear to be returning to popular restaurants and the government has also announced some relief measures for food licence holders. Hong Kong is nothing if not resilient, and we hope that the F&B industry, together with the city’s residents, will be able to weather this storm and come out even stronger.
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