The Produce Marketing Association convened a virtual town hall on March 25, with more than 800 members registered from 21 countries.
The virtual town hall featured perspectives from PMA CEO Cathy Burns, chief science officer, Dr. Max Teplitski, and Cornerstone Government Affairs’ principal and director, Hunt Shipman. Here’s a summary of the main themes.
With members from Mexico, Singapore, the EU, Colombia, Peru, the United States and China all providing insights, the discussion focused on patterns from country to country as the pandemic progresses. This includes an initial rise in retail from panic buying, making it difficult to anticipate demand, followed by a stabilizing period where the largest questions remaining are about trade and logistics.
This roundtable highlighted differences between European challenges and what is becoming a challenge in the United States. Within Europe, fewer retailers are geared to support e-commerce or online grocery shopping. Additionally, with air freight deeply impacted, maintaining capacity in the supply chain has become a challenge while ground transportation has seen fewer problems. In the United States, the main delays are not at ports or border crossings; they are at distribution centers waiting to be unloaded, possibly due to facility policies around social distancing among the workforce.
Similar to other roundtable discussions, this group confirmed the stabilization of retail traffic. Members from multiple companies were reflecting similar challenges, ranging from a decrease in trucks for produce as other products grew in demand, to childcare issues facing retail employees whose children are out of schools. Most retailers are seeing the same core group of products - including bananas, potatoes, carrots and onions – make up the bulk of purchases.
Foodservice has seen a considerable amount of disruption from the operator through the supply chain. Discussions here focused on how foodservice is responding to the crisis by offering take-out and delivery approaches and even trimming down menus. There were also instances of collaboration to save fresh product as well as jobs, including distributing directly to retailers who were reducing produce deliveries to account for other high-demand items. Members remain optimistic about the future but are concerned about how the supply chain will be able to meet restaurants’ needs in a post-COVID-19 world.
Here, industry leaders from the U.S., South Africa and Spain discussed the uncertainties facing growers and shippers globally. While the supply chain is stable, a shared major concern is maintaining labour in a way that is safe for employees and their employers.
Source: Produce Marketing Association March 25, 2020 news release