Despite a few hiccups at the beginning of the pandemic, the fresh produce supply chain not only held its own, but often went above and beyond to get fruit and vegetables from field to fork.
“People talk about the problems the supply chain had, but the pandemic also spoke to how good the supply chain was,” says Kristen Park, extension specialist at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
“You may not have been able to find your favorite brand or certain products, but there was always food there. The produce department at retail kept supplies moving very well. The system worked.”
“Produce is one of the most resilient and flexible industries,” says Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and sustainability at the Newark, DE-based Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708.
“It kept the stores and the supply chain full. Large packers work side-by-side, but they instituted social distancing right away. Many great win-win relationships were built overnight and were able to implement programs just as fast. There was a cost, but there were no empty shelves.”
Logistics: Here & There
The logistics snapshot is also relatively positive. Getting from Point A to Point B endured some chaos, but the trucking and logistics industry has seen both increased volume and pricing.
In the five months from May through September 2020, the Allen Lund Company, LLC BB #:107465 saw an increase of 23 percent in load volume and was hiring, says Bob Rose, vice president of produce sales at the company’s headquarters outside Los Angeles, CA.
“Truck rates are up,” he says, and believes they’ll continue.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges. Rose says a trucker he’s worked with for 34 years had to reposition his entire fleet as he found opportunities in Florida and Atlanta to replace lost business in the Northeast.
Even as prices rose, so did costs, as warehouses and ports suffered delays due to illness or safety requirements. “Any kind of delay hurts the trucking industry,” Rose says. “There are only a finite number of trucks on the road.”
Amy Childress, vice president of marketing and sales, cargo solutions for Emerson Cargo Solutions, BB #:194324 Boise, ID, concurs.
She says keeping up with demand “placed tremendous strain on the food supply chain and logistics processes, which often challenged the maximum capacity of retail distribution centers.”
Some providers, she notes, were asked to hold shipments—but perishables can’t sit in trucks for extended periods of time.
“When we look at how these impacts will continue into 2021, flexibility is key,” Childress says. Although her words are about the transportation and logistics sector, they are no less apropos for the industry at large. “Everyone needs to have contingency plans in place,” she emphasizes, “no matter what.”
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.