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Shopping the Pandemic Supply Chain

Ian Duffield
Jul 28, 2020 11:11:28 AM

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but the shopping experience here in California is radically different to how we experienced it, 6 months ago. Most stores only allow a certain number of people inside at one point in time. This often means there’s a line outside. Of course, everyone is wearing a mask; this protects all of us including the vulnerable people we may come into contact with later. Then there’s the check out where you are not able to use your own bags and contactless payment methods are preferred.

people-line-frombackAnother thing I’ve noticed is in some stores the supply chain has taken a big hit. I was recently in the market for a new computer monitor and walked into my local electronics store expecting a choice of several options in the size I wanted. What I found was quite a surprise. The inventory was almost zero. The wide range of options we’re so usually spoiled with was nowhere to be seen. Several stores later I found the last one in stock of the type I wanted.

strawberry-harvest-covidWhat has been equally surprising is how the supply chain of other products has not been impacted at all. Our favorite topic in this blog is to talk about perishable items, particularly fruit and vegetables. Despite the most severe pandemic in 100 years being in full force, our produce farmers and their associated teams of harvest crews, packers, shippers, distributors and logistics teams have been able to keep the shelves full.

I was looking for turnips the other week and my local store was out. That’s my only experience of not being able to buy what I wanted. Maybe it was a seasonal thing. But think about it: in an industry that is heavily dependent on manual labor for growing, harvesting, cooling and distribution, the supply chain has barely been impacted. This is really remarkable, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the farmers and their teams for this.

man-laptop-tractor-fieldAs we’ve talked about in these posts before, the produce industry is unique in the fact that when the product is ready you either harvest it or you lose it (or, more accurately, you plough it back into the ground). When it’s ready, it’s ready. You can’t push it back into the ground or leave it for another week. In that time it becomes un-marketable. The supply of produce we’re seeing in stores now was determined over three months ago when the farmers prepared the ground and planted the seedlings.

I know that readers who know a lot more than I do about how this is happening. They’re saying, “You don’t know the half of it!” I understand that there have been major changes in sourcing and in the availability of labor, and I’m sure it has been a massively stressful time for farmers as they try to address labor shortages and over-production as well as breakdowns in supply from some of their usual suppliers. You may notice many stores are sourcing even more local product than usual, and that the harvest crews have been working all hours to keep up.

In addition, COVID-19 virtually shut down the food service side of the supply allowing that allocation to shift over to the retail outlets. Again, with the fixed supply, this was a blessing for retailers who saw a sharp increase in demand during the early weeks of the outbreak.

woman-grocerybag-red-thumbsupSo, despite the completely unforeseen circumstances of this global pandemic, farmers around the world are still doing their thing, and the result is an almost uninterrupted supply of the most perishable products in our stores. While it’s a struggle to buy certain products, thankfully fresh fruits and vegetables are still widely available.

Thank you, farmers!

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