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New Changes in the Food Industry from Covid-19
One of the main concerns people have during any crisis is the impact it has on our food supply. When the duration of the crisis is uncertain, this concern becomes particularly escalated, like in a war, a drought, or a virus outbreak.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic is no different, leading the markets, government, and companies to consider new changes in the food industry from Covid-19
Buying Patterns, Farm-Labor Shortage, and Early Impact
As a preventive measure, the Government asked people to keep food supply for 14-15 days, creating a rush of panic buying all over the country, and leaving empty shelves in a matter of days.
While the farm-labor shortage has been an overlapped issue for some time now, it came out to light fiercely once the World Health Organization declared the pandemic on March 11th.
Concerned about the situation, farmers expressed the current barriers they were going through. They indicated that it was not the lack of food, but the lack of workforce that endangered the American food supply chain during this pandemic, as “crops were literally rotting in the fields” due to the shortage in personnel (Koin 06, Apr 01, 2020).
US Government Measures
In response to this calling, Mike Pence, Vice President of the US, visited farmers and discussed the possible measure to be taken to confront this problematic issue. Considering that the migration policies in the current government impacted the fields, Pence promised an extension on migrants’ temporary working visas as a way to palliate the situation and restock the empty shelves.
President Donald Trump also met with grocers and retailers to understand their situation, according to some measures such as limiting the purchase of certain products or allocations throughout the supply chain (CNBC, Mar 31, 2020).
The conclusion on the initial stages was that as the buying patterns changed swiftly due to the panic behavior, the food supply chain could not adapt in real-time.
However, as the spread advanced and the country became the epicenter of the pandemic, the American food supply chain could get impacted by a different frontline.
Virus Spread and Farm Workers
While the US Government took initial measures to manage the lack of workforce, a second concern appeared in the outbreak panorama: Would the work conditions in the fields affect the crops? Could that result in a food shortage?
The concern about the virus getting to farmer’s fields and the capacity of these farmers to provide the right measures for their workers became the weak point of the supply chain.
While workers are not under quarantine, production will continue but those workers might eventually become infected due to other infected workers. That leads us to wonder, is there any possible measure to control this situation? Farmers are taking some measures by distributing the remaining workforce and “adding hand-washing stations” to the fields. (USA Today, Apr 04, 2020)
Fortunately, the answer seems to be intermittent scarcity, instead of a consistent shortage. The professor of engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yossi Sheffi, declares to Quartz “Food is grown all over the United States, it’s not likely that all these farming communities will be hit at once” (Quartz, Apr 01, 2020).
Positive Projections and New Changes in the Food Industry from Covid-19
What experts point out is that if citizens control their panic shopping through grocer’s measure, there’s no reason to expect a scarcity situation in the whole American food supply chain. But instead, a shortage of specific products for determined periods, with minimum impact for the average citizen.
Food has always been wasted rather than scarce in the US. The call is for grocers to take inventory and limit their sales according to the supply situation to control the panic and allow the supply chain to adapt.
In the end, experts are optimistic about the food situation, as the country produces enough food to supply the people even in this situation, with only 15% of food begin imported (USA Today, Apr 04, 2020). They also urge the government to prioritize the health sector, which may face a meaningful lack of supplies and are the frontline in the battle against this pandemic.