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2021: What’s the new normal?

The year 2020 was like no other, and many produce leaders expect uncertainty about the future to remain as the dominant issue in 2021.

The produce supply chain underwent some critical disruptions in 2020. First was the almost immediate collapse of the foodservice sector due to Covid-19 shutdowns and nearly simultaneous spike in demand at retail, followed by the acceleration of online ordering and direct-to-consumer initiatives.

Next came the implementation of new safety protocols throughout the supply chain.

“All the traditional forecasting models have been thrown off kilter, both on the buy side and the sell side,” confirms Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and sustainability at the Newark, DE-based Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708.

“We used to be able to predict fairly well,” Treacy adds. “It wasn’t perfect, but now it’s a dart board—and that rolls right back to plantings.”

Complicating efforts are the pace and extent of the gradual reopening of society in the summer, which varied wildly by state, county, and city, then came many reversals as the virus spiked in different regions.

“Most of these decisions are more driven by politics than science, which makes things erratic,” comments Steve Grinstead, CEO of FreshEdge, LLC in Indianapolis, IN. “Erratic is not a friend to the intricate fresh food supply chain.”

The good news is that the pandemic forced retailers and suppliers alike to be more agile.

They’re keeping their options open, maintaining current and new relationships developed during the crisis, and most believe this will help them address the ongoing challenges ahead in 2021.

While no one truly knows what lies ahead, most believe it can be handled, in one way or another.

“Working during the Covid-19 pandemic has tested almost every facet of business operations,” says Amy Childress, vice president of marketing and sales, cargo solutions for Emerson Cargo Solutions, BB #:194324 Boise, ID.

“But it is also pushing people to innovate, build stronger relationships and partnerships, and make the supply chain more resilient over time.”

Joe Pezzini, CEO of Ocean Mist Farms BB #:111742 in Castroville, CA, puts it this way: “I think business, and life in general for that matter, will change permanently to some degree.”

The pandemic, he says, is not only a defining generational event, but will usher in the “new normal.”

This is a feature from the cover story of the January/February 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the full article.