Antonella Grech is the founder and owner of NVKED, a healthy meal prep and food business which specialises in working with people with specific dietary requirements. She holds a B.Sc. in Earth Systems and is the eldest of four siblings. Antonella was born and raised in catering and made the career switch as soon as she graduated, something she truly enjoys.
2020 was probably the most challenging year many of us working in the local catering scene have ever experienced. As February 2020 rolled about, we started hearing more and more about this mysterious virus originating from far away. As cases started popping up in neighbouring countries, something we mocked during carnival and laughed about became something all too real, and terrifying.
Now that we have some solid knowledge about this virus, we are much less “afraid” so to speak than we were a year ago (and much less attentive to measures too!) All we heard back then was that this virus left you breathless with incredible body pains and if you’re unlucky it brings a most horrific death. Today, although we know that that can be the case, we also know that being asymptotic or having much milder symptoms is possible and common. Fear has quickly turned into hope of returning to normality but for many the situation in early 2020 and the situation post-Covid are sorely different.
A few days after the first case popped up, the country closed, those in power fearing the worst for those in their responsibility. And as the country shut down, no other industries were hit worse than catering, hospitality, tourism and entertainment. Restaurants, bars, kazini, pubs, hotels – all closed their doors with no light at the end of the tunnel. Although aid was given, nothing could ever come close to the income these people were making before. Many places that closed during that time were unable to open again. From sky high rents to bills to a large amount of food, which had been thrown away, everything combined made for a disaster. Although many did adapt and move on to delivery services (giving rise to some gigantic food delivery companies employing hundreds of people), the income was not the same. Many people, especially locals, opt for deliveries just during the weekends. Apart from that, businesses, which were working with take-outs prior to Covid, now had one less source of income – the service itself at the restaurant. This led to many closures around the islands with many jobs lost and whole lives turned upside down.
In order to survive the pandemic, caterers had to adapt and change the way they work and reach clients. Many places, which did not deliver, started offering deliveries, a lot of businesses invested in websites to make ordering easier. As time went by, people have grown used to the comfort of having everything at the click of a button. Will this be the way many of us enjoy food from outside from now on? While people will still go out for the social factor and the feel good factor of being catered to your every need, many have now grown used to having a hot dinner by simply tapping a few buttons on an app. Has the popularization of these services brought on a new era in catering? Have we now grown reliant on having many of our dinners prepared by someone else? Is this just a phase until everyone gets back to the life they were leading pre-Covid? While people were indeed ordering out before, nothing compares to the unlikely business boom for food delivery that came in 2020, and yet even despite that, many places are still struggling.
Moving on to healthy food delivery and meal prep; the sector in which I have my own business. The year of Covid was a good year for the meal prep sector. As people were working from home they were eating out less and those who relied on daily visits to a local pub or snack bar on their way to/from work found themselves having to cook and eventually looking for an alternative. People, especially those with children around, needed a break from at least one chore and opted for healthy meal prep services. Another impact I personally noticed was that at the beginning of March, many were spending more hours at home, baking and comfort eating.
As soon as it seemed like the country was about to open up again, panic erupted as they realised they wouldn’t fit into their favourite swim suits as #roadtosummer2020 quickly turned into #baking at the start of the pandemic. People needed that boost and when it comes to true healthy food preparation many do get lost or simply lack the time to prepare food for themselves especially if they have to prepare different food for the rest of the family and meal prep services provide the solution to that problem.