Is it over yet? The recession, that is. How long will we have to keep asking that question?

Friday's economic news that we are still 'officially' in a recession knocked me back a bit as only two days earlier I'd been at a retail-focused conference where we were all told, by no less than Mark Berrisford-Smith, senior economist of HSBC, that "the worst of the recession is over". I should have known better than to get too carried away. As always the devil's in the detail, ie 'the worst of' is a useful little phrase that keeps all bases covered!

However, Berrisford-Smith was, as usual, a very engaging speaker and overall his was a very positive speech about "the present state of the nation" with optimistic pointers regarding the next few years.

In short there may still be pitfalls ahead and it could take two to three more years before we are back to "normality". We are starting to see the back of the worst recession for more than 60 years but "the recovery will be long and fragile, and we do not yet know the endgame".

Well that's OK then we can all breath a sigh of relief. Things are, possibly, starting to look up.

Cautious optimism was the theme of the day, along with a realisation that when things improve they will not go back to the way they were.

Pippa Goodman from the Future Foundation talked about fundamental changes in consumer behaviour. Confidence is recovering from dramatic and historically low levels but still has a long way to go, while future consumers will be different to the people they were before the recession started.

The levels of personal and public debt are worrying the general public in a profound and habit-changing way, which will be reflected in consumers' shopping activities for many years. They will save more than before and are already starting to "budget" in a way we have not seen for a generation. Purchases will be planned more thoughtfully and consumers will shop around and haggle for maximum value for money.

Those of us who are now a bit long in the tooth and are at the stage where we're contemplating that first bottle of Grecian 2000 might be wondering why some of this should be seen as new. Haven't careful planning and seeking value for money in all areas always been the foundations of any well-run business? It certainly was the case when Britain was seen as a 'nation of shopkeepers' and perhaps it's no bad thing that basic financial 'prudence' is coming back in to fashion.

So recovery may be on its way but there's still some hard work to be done. In other words business as usual for those of us in the food sector!

Guy Moreton is director of recruitment practitioner MorePeople.

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