January 10th 2020, my phoned buzzed.
I stirred and cursed under my breath as I looked over at Alexa. It was only 2.13am. I scuffled across the bed to the dresser to see who was calling.
I answered the call with a husky, “hello babe” into the receiver.
“Have you been following the international news lately?” Lin queried.
If there is one person that knows me so well, it is my best friend – Lin.
I never read the news neither do I listen to it – it’s just too sad to read about all the sufferings in the world (a major reason I never pursued a career in Journalism – even though it was my first choice).
“No” I said with a clearer voice as I became more aroused. I could picture her rolling her eyes – a gesture I am used to whenever I have fallen short of her expectations.
“There’s this growing virus outbreak in Wuhan and I’m so scared” she whimpered.
I had seen a post about a virus outbreak in Wuhan, China on Instagram some days ago, but I disregarded it as it was referred to as a “common flu”. At that moment, I felt like a horrible friend for not checking up on Lin, knowing so well she lives in the centre of this outbreak.
Three months later.
It feels like I’m living in a horror movie, one I have secretly been hired for without my consent. Italy is battling with higher cases of Coronavirus than China, where the pandemic first broke out. The virus is spreading like an uncontrollable wildfire, the masses are dying – and it didn’t matter if they are young, rich, old, poor or highly influential.
People are pointing fingers, expressing their disappointments in a government they believed have failed them.
“Why didn’t they close the border soon enough?”, “Why did they tell us it was just common flu?”, “Why did they encourage us to go out with the #milanononsiferma movement?”, a lot of questions were asked and a lot of them went unanswered as reality dawned that it was time to employ more stringent rules.
We are ordered to stay home, activities are halting, people are losing their sources of income and we are left with the tiny hope that andra tutto bene – meaning all will be fine. The social media #milanononsiferma (Milano doesn’t stop) movement was quickly replaced with #iorestoacasa (I stay at home).
As an MBA student in Food and Wine, I follow what is going on in my industry. My admiration has grown for companies like Enolytics – that is helping businesses in the wine industry to make utmost use of big data in this period so they don’t run out of business; and public figures like Kat Kimson, who is advocating for the mental health of restaurant workers who have lost their jobs in this dire period.
Before now, many business owners in the food and wine industry – especially the small scaled frowned upon the use of new media to promote their businesses. They were happy and satisfied to cater only to their neighbours and locals who regularly patronised them – it was enough to keep the business going.
One big lesson restaurateurs and wine makers are learning right now is the importance of direct to consumers programs and the importance of creating relationships with their customers online. Many restaurants are now relying on food delivery services like Uber and Just Eat to bail them out and help keep their businesses running.
Eataly, that already had an online delivery system is putting more efforts into their online strategy, while also partnering with Deliveroo to reach a wider customer base in Italy. They are also offering customers the choice to pick up their groceries at the store.
Ecommerce wine platform – Vivino, has witnessed a +150% increase in sales this April as compared to same period last year, Heini Zachariassen – the founder of the company mentioned during a one-on-one session at my Innovation and Narration in Food and Wine Class. Heini also pointed out that he foresees a steady drop in sales once physical stores begin to open but definitely not as low as before the pandemic – “it’s going to fall at a midpoint” he had stated.
Italian Wine Academy has continued to empower its students with information and prepare them for the upcoming Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exam through virtual wine tasting activities.
After the pandemic is over, I predict more shift towards online activities in the food and wine industry. Virtual wine-tasting will become a thing; businesses will invest more in creating relationships with their customers online through social media activities and email marketing. Businesses will take customer data collection and storage more seriously and also invest more in big data processing. In addition to this, businesses will expand their partnerships and uncover new ways of doing business. Once again, the digital media and big data will prove its strengths to business owners who have always underestimated its power.
I also foretell that many physical stores will permanently or partially move their selling activities online as they discover new ways to reach their audience at lower costs than before – through ecommerce and direct to consumer, hereby shortening the supply chain.
Consumers are not left out in this realisation process as well; they will discover new businesses they can trust online and continue to patronise them even after the pandemic is over.
For me, this time has bestowed upon me a lot of time to reflect on trivial matters like how the pigeons at Duomo square in Milan will survive with no one to throw crumbs at them; and more important matters as how this will affect me as a graduate student who will be seeking for a job in few months from now. Will there be jobs out there for me? Will my services be required as businesses scramble to get back on their feet? How can I make sure I stay relevant in my field and provide value to these companies?
This pandemic has taught me a valuable lesson of not putting all my eggs in one basket and working hard on my side hustle and passion – which is my blog – to generate an extra source of income to weather the storms ahead.
If there is one thing this time at home may have collectively taught us, it is to appreciate more all those moments we could walk into a bar full of strangers, plan vacations, and wake up to prepare for a job we were certain awaited us. Now all we have is this uncertainty that looms over us, an uncertainty of what tomorrow holds.