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Limited losses in food industry hide ‘tragic realities’

Credit: Belga

The limited decline in the food industry’s turnover between 2019 and 2020 hides the ‘tragic realities’ of coronavirus-related losses, according to an economic advisor at Fevia, the Federation of the Belgian Food Industry.

“Our sector is not the one that has been most strongly affected by the coronavirus crisis, but this moderate decline hides tragic realities,” explained Carole Dembour. “Businesses that are very dependent on tourism, for example, have seen a 50% drop in revenue. The overall decline over the last three quarters has not been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.”

The decline in turnover was 1.7% between 2019 and 2020, with profits in the food industry falling to €54.4 billion.

In terms of production, the beverage sector was particularly hard hit, with a decline of more than 18% compared to 2019.

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With 95,670 jobs, the workforce remained stable, thanks in particular to temporary unemployment measures, but Fevia nevertheless noted a 9.5% drop in terms of full-time positions.

The shortage of skilled labour, which has been steadily increasing since 2015, has become even more acute because of the health crisis, with butchers and bakers among others being in high demand.

The food industry’s trade balance remains positive but is down slightly to €4.2 billion compared to €5 billion in 2019. Exports fell slightly, while imports went the other way.

Despite losses, the evolution of sales in the sector has been contrasted over the past year with a particularly strong first quarter (+6.7%) and a 4.3% cumulative decline over the last three quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, officials at Fevia said on Thursday.

The Brussels Times