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Foodservice sector is far from normal

As long as society remains constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic, the foodservice industry will operate at less than full capacity.

Produce suppliers of foodservice agree the segment is doing better than a few months ago, but it will take months – or longer – to fully recover.

“We expect it will take at least a year,” said Anthony Sirna, Director of Business Development for Sirna and Sons Produce, BB #:151141 Ravenna, OH, during a June 19 United Fresh Live education session.

“In cities, people are working from home, so there are fewer work lunches and dinners,” he said. “If sales don’t return when the [government] loans run out, restaurants will close.”

Marcus Agresta, President of Piazza Produce BB #:102623 in Indianapolis, said his city is dependent on convention business, and as long as those aren’t being held, full recovery can’t happen.

Dino Cancellieri, Managing Partner of Veg-Fresh Farms, BB #:130688 Corona, CA, said we’re all getting used to this new environment.

“Getting kids back to school is a big step this fall, but some are already saying they’ll be online” instead of in-class.

Melissa Ackerman, President of Produce Alliance, BB #:159218 Chicago, said there are different rules and levels of recovery depending on the city and state.

These suppliers said going through this pandemic is allowing them to learn some new things about the business.

Sirna said the crisis has both forced and allowed his company to make changes that it wasn’t able to do before. He also said the company learned how valuable social media can be to promote the company and connect to consumers.

Many said the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program has been a big success.

Tom Brugato, President of Pacific Coast Fruit Company, BB #:100777 Portland, OR, said the company received a contract and has delivered 700,000 boxes since mid-May.

“We got to bring back furloughed workers,” he said. “It’s been an amazing program for us and being able to feed the needy.”
Cancellieri said his company has worked with food banks in the past, but the food box program, there is more interaction directly with consumers.

“We’ve gotten to see more clearly who is benefitting,” he said.

Ackerman said the program has been such a success that many suppliers would like to see it be a longer term program.

USDA announced last week that the food box program was extended through the end of August with more than $1 billion allocated for it.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services