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James Quincey on the ‘Digitally Enabled’ Post-COVID Future of Foodservice


Coca‑Cola Chairman and CEO James Quincey joined McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski recently for a livestreamed conversation about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global foodservice industry.

In the webinar, hosted by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) and moderated by CGF Managing Director Wai-Chan Chan, Quincey said restaurants and other away-from-home/on-premise eating channels like movie theaters and hotels that embrace a “future-forward” outlook will have an edge as lockdowns lift and routines resume.

From in-store ordering technology and mobile apps to touchless delivery and streamlined drive-through operations, nimble outlets are taking innovative steps to keep their businesses running and their employees and guests safe.  

“We will be in a more contactless environment for some period of time,” Quincey said. “And it’s not just about ordering and picking up. The digital component of the experience will become much bigger in QSR [quick-serve restaurants], in cinemas, in sit-down restaurants… Those who were well positioned [before the outbreak] will be able to accelerate.”

Remote work and stay-at-home orders have disrupted the QSR channel’s daypart mix. For example, McDonald’s breakfast traffic is down due to fewer morning commuters.

Coca‑Cola has seen a strong surge in mobile and online ordering during the pandemic. “If you look at the at-home consumption side of our business, we’re seeing a step-up in people ordering and buying through e-commerce,” Quincey said. “They’ve been forced to experiment whether they like it or not. And a big part of that will be permanent in the future.”

Value will continue to be key for the foodservice sector as the economic impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold and unemployment relief and furlough schemes phase out.

“Affordability will be with us for a while, partly because we will see further waves of isolated virus outbreaks until we have a vaccine… it’s not a storm that passes over and is gone,” Quincey said. “And these extraordinary government support schemes will be indefinite. Hopefully, the economy will recover before they unwind, but I suspect they won’t be perfectly matched, at which point we’ll see an enduring phase where value is going to be very important.”

Quincey ultimately expressed confidence in the foodservice channel’s eventual rebound.

“Humans are social creatures… they want to be out in the vibrancy of the world,” he said. “So I believe these sectors will come back. It won’t be quite the same… there will be a much more digital component, so it’s important for all of us to get our heads around what that will look like... But we are going to go on and go back.”