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Analysis: COVID-19 Impacts on the Fresh Produce Industry

The impacts of COVID-19 on the fresh produce industry are fast-moving. Unfortunately, this virus is spreading quickly around the entire globe. A regional issue has become a global one quite quickly, and most countries across the globe are responding with closed borders, complete lockdowns, and transportation limitations.

With so much uncertainty at the pinnacle of this pandemic, we are bound to see impacts on our food system, and both supply and demand of fresh produce.

The food supply chain is an incredibly connected web of agricultural inputs, fruit packers and processors, transportation, shipping, and more. Professionals in the fresh produce industry, including Vanguard’s BB #:300298 team, are working around the clock to combat challenges of border closures, quarantines, and supply chain and/or trade disruptions to limit the impact on people’s and our customers’ access to diverse sources of quality assured fresh fruits and vegetables.

Here is a breakdown on the impacts that COVID-19 could have or are having, and factors that we are constantly monitoring:

Transporting Fresh Produce

• Restrictions of movement and logistic delays will disrupt some regular supply chain flow as we move into April and May. Vanguard is working with all major transportation service providers to minimize potential negative impacts for our growers and customers around the world.
• These restrictions might impede growers from selling their produce to regular markets and we are doing everything possible to keep shipments flowing smoothly to all destinations.
• Halts and delays in transporting fresh produce will bring up storage concerns, while distributors will aim to re-locate produce as quickly as possible to reduce food loss or waste.
• So far, we are pivoting successfully, and this is little cause for concern, but as the situation unfolds in the coming days and weeks, we are aware this could change and are contingency planning constantly.
• So far, we are seeing price hikes on inland and ocean freight surcharges, as well as skyrocketing air freight rates.

Agriculture Production

• There is little cause for concern as agricultural activities are deemed an essential services in most, if not all, countries worldwide.
• Concern is growing about growers’ workforces being impeded by seasonal workers not being able to cross borders, or becoming ill themselves, but we are seeing signs of improvement in the United States with the easing of restrictions on H2A labor crossings from Mexico.
• Hindrances to labor may impact production, especially for labor-intensive crops.
• Shortage of fertilizers or other supplies may impact the rate of agricultural production.
• As a global community we salute our growers and customers alike. They, along with our health care workers, are truly heroes in this battle.

Fresh Produce Demand

• There is very little cause for concern, globally, as there is plenty food for everyone.
• In fact, demand has increased for fresh produce as consumers seek to increase their daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables to boost their immune systems since the onset of COVID-19.
• It is important to take into consideration other factors that impact fresh produce demand such as restaurant closures as well as individuals creating new habits such as eating more at home, and conducting less frequent grocery store runs.
• We are currently seeing dietary patterns alter with shifts in how people buy and consume food – including the increase in e-commerce shopping that we’ve seen spike in China.

This industry has been built on its ability to adopt, adapt, and change quickly. This isn’t the first global concern that has put pressure on our food system. We, as a collective industry, are well-versed in how to shift the supply chain to benefit as many people as possible. If you have questions or concerns about your region, please reach out to your local Vanguard representative. We are in this together!

Craig Stauffer is CEO of Vanguard International USA, Inc. Issaquah, WA. He wrote this column March 31st, 2020.