Sea wave crashing against grey sky

Waves of Disruption: The Corona Trigger in Bioindustry

24/03/2020

Change is not linear. Numerous drivers operate in parallel, hollowing away the ground beneath the market over time until everything suddenly shifts.  

For bioindustry, this rings extremely true. Within bioindustry, various factors have been present and progressing for many years, sometimes in isolation, sometimes reinforcing each other. Now COVID-19 has triggered a wave of disruption across the bioindustry that has significant implications.

In a series of insights, we will examine the coming wave of disruption and, step by step, form a conclusion - or set of conclusions. Let us begin by putting the pieces of the puzzle on the table. Our focus is on bioindustry, especially packaging, toilet paper, hygiene products, pulp and paper. Within these areas, a number of change instruments have been operating for some time and we will examine them in this order: 

The hygiene factor – Hygiene products have traditionally been linked to living standards. Recent developments have created a sense of fear related to maintaining living standards, from the empty shelves of toilet paper and kitchen rolls to antibacterial wipes. What route will tissue and hygiene settle on when the current pandemic is over? 

The E-commerce step change – The transformation of retail and delivery, particularly consumer goods, has been underway for 20 years and has had implications for packaging. The COVID-19 crisis has expediated this change, speeding up the shift in consumer habits. This is causing companies to hire additional workers to carry out the extra flow, such as Amazon who has hired 100,000 new employees, with a resulting impact on delivery and packaging likely. 

Work and schooling habits – The COVID-19 pandemic has made remote working and studying the norm. It is both a test of psychological endurance and showcase for modern technology and the toolkit for remote work. An increase in working from home and remote learning is bound to change the role of paper in offices and education. 

The “safe-to-eat” criterion – Eating and nutritional habits have already started transforming food packaging. COVID-19 is a potent reminder of the importance of food that is ‘safe from disease and not tampered with’ and brings development in packaging across the board. 

The supply chain fix – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe shocks in 2020 for many bioindustry supply chains. What is the fix to ensure uninterrupted supply at manageable cost? 

The ICT shift in Bioindustry 4.0 – The COVID-19 pandemic has increased data use, markedly both for business and pleasure. The amount of bits being streamed to support home office activities and to provide entertainment also increases energy use, and changes the required infrastructure of available bandwidth for other data transfer, including industrial 
and commercial. 

The sustainability transformation – Safety from new pathogens such as COVID19 also underscores the need to keep potential sources of new harmful organisms in check. Climate-change-accelerated imbalances in nature may increase such sources. Uncollected and poorly handled waste streams, for example plastics, are unhygienic and disrupt food chains, potentially spreading animal microbes to humans. Therefore, reforestation and recycling are 
also affected by the pandemic.

How will these and other drivers, all impacted by COVID-19, shape the future of bioindustry? We will pull the threads together and present an overall view at the end of the series. 

As in all times of uncertainty and unsettling news, it is worth remembering that life and activity must continue. If the potential is harnessed, change can provide an opportunity for positive developments, for society and for the environment. 

Saara Söderberg

VP & Head of Industry Management Consulting

Petri Vasara

Vice President, Management Consulting, Finland