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  • Writer's pictureNathalie

How did Covid-19 disrupt B2B events and catering? A discussion with industry experts.

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

On July 1st, we organised a webinar with 2 industry experts talking about the impact of Covid-19 on their respective sector.

Speakers Corinne Oppenheim, CEO of Salt’O, a marketing and business development consulting specialised in food and beverage, and Andrew Reid, Strategy Director at events agency Shelton Fleming Associates, exchanged views on how Covid-19 disrupted their sector and how businesses reacted.

With 30 years’ experience in Sales and Marketing, Corinne held a number of sales and Marketing positions in FMCG in France (Sara Lee, Unilever), and F’n’B (Sales and Marketing Director to French restaurant chain Buffalo Grill).

Andrew has worked for more than 30 years in Marketing and Research, including as MD to GfK Global Custom Research, and UK MD to First Movies, Penn Schoen and Berland entertainment division. Andrew is also board member and former Board Director at EVCOM, the UK events and communications trade association.

We started by analysing the fallout from this health crisis. Covid-19 has affected all sectors; some have been more affected than others, being unable to carry out their activities. This is the case for food and beverage and B2B events.

It was fascinating hearing data and facts on the disruption induced by the health crisis, and the strategies put in place in these sectors.

The impact on businesses in France and the UK

Restaurants and events organisers had to stick to restrictions from lockdowns from mid-May 2020 to early June 2020 and more recently from early September 2020 to May 2021, i.e. over 9 months which impacted their turnover.

For the food industry in France, this meant a 38% drop in visits and a 35% drop in turnover in 2020 compared to 2019 (source NPD Group).

For the B2B Events industry, once the lockdowns were announced, 100% of the industry collapsed according to Andrew Reid.

How industries responded

Corinne Oppenheim stated that the food and beverage industry had to develop a new model, as restaurant owners turned to delivery and click & collect, and joined delivery industry aggregators such as Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats.

Andrew Reid explained that B2B events also adapted very quickly, making the pivot to digital via virtual events.

There was a shift already, but would have happened over 5 years, this was a way for businesses to survive. - Andrew Reid
40% French households got delivered a meal or meal kit in 2020 - Corinne Oppenheim

Companies in both sectors have been very reactive, as it was a matter of survival.

Trends before Covid, and since


In the Food and Beverage industry, companies are looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Since the beginning of the crisis this trend has been accelerated by a wider community awareness. It goes hand in hand with the fact that consumers want to eat local and traceable products.

In B2B events, the need for transparency is forcing companies to rethink their behaviour.

What Covid has done it’s created a much greater sense of action, we’re in a lot of things together, it’s a global phenomenon. – Andrew Reid
That's going to be a lot of transparency forced on companies, to look at how they’re behaving. How many people are they sending around the world on business meetings? How many air miles are they racking up a year? What kind of impact are they having on the world? And it won’t be just ‘we know it’s happening’; it will be quantified. – Andrew Reid

Digital transformation

In 2020 there was a massive shift for catering in France, as traditional restaurants joined aggregators such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Just Eat.

In B2B events, businesses needed to re-invent the way they were managing digital. Digital and virtual had been around for decades, merely as a bonus feature in conferences and events. With the pandemic it suddenly replaced face-to-face events.

do more than a meeting but actually stage an event, make it immersive, allow for social interaction - Andrew Reid

We've been doing this with Holoportl, where you have a speaker at different events. They are filmed on a white background, and they can be in more than one place. - Andrew Reid


According to Corinne Oppenheim, the pandemic has been a gas pedal for the Food & Beverage industry. Thanks to the crisis, F&B is now catching up with other sectors in implementing digital transformation.

What would have taken 3 to 5 years otherwise was achieved in just 15 months.

For B2B Events, Andrew Reid believes it has been accelerator as well as disruptor.

The digital side of B2B events, which has been around for decades, was abruptly accelerated during the crisis.

The disruption then lied in having virtual and hybrid become a major part of B2B events, rather than a bonus feature.

Listen to the podcast on our YouTube channel

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