Italian importer 2M Exotic Fruits reports that for those importing high-quality pineapples the situation is dramatic (Fresh Plaza, 6 May). There are no more regular airliners and shipments are blocked, so costs for the very few active flights have skyrocketed. In the pre-coronavirus era the cost of goods shipped by air (for transport only) was about 90 cents/kg, now the cost is around 2.5 euros. The company was importing pineapple from the Dominican Republic, shipped via air. “But now there is no more tourism and flights have been cancelled. Twenty days ago there was only one flight a day connecting Latin America to Europe, and it would leave from Bogota. There is no way we can think of using it.” In the Dominican Republic, growers are exhausted because no one buys their pineapples anymore. Without tourism, the internal market, does not consume it in sufficient volumes, exports are blocked and the entire supply chain is collapsing. “Before Covid-19 we had two daily planes over Madrid that brought the pineapples from the Dominican Republic to Europe, plus 3 or 4 weekly flights over Malpensa. Now there’s none left.”
Kenya – A 28 April joint statement issued by KFC and FPEAK points out that the shortfall in air freight capacity could lead to the collapse of Kenya’s horticulture exports. Although demand is recovering somewhat as markets open up gradually, and has remained stable over the past 4 weeks, exporters can’t fulfil the demand due to the lack of cargo space. This has led to the cost of freight almost doubling in some cases, with many exporters choosing not to send consignments, fearing losses. KFC and FPEAK point out that “If we sort out the air freight issue to the UK and Netherlands, we would solve over 70% of the current challenge.” The joint statement sets out the need for government support to increase weekly fresh produce air freight capacity from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Amsterdam and the UK to 3,500 tons (from the current average 1,500 tons), at negotiated reduced rates. The normal pre-crisis capacity available in Nairobi was 5,000 tons per week. Achieving this would call for a mix of targeted operator incentives including specific support to Kenya Airways; temporary waivers of local fees and taxes; subsidies; regional pooling of freight capacity with neighbouring countries; and government-to-government concessions with the UK and the Netherlands. KFC and FPEAK state that “If no solution is found quickly, we risk losing the gains made by the industry over the years. […] The industry is merely struggling to survive.”
Côte d’Ivoire’s mango campaign began on 12 April, but this year in the unusual context of COVID-19 (Fresh Plaza, 29 April). According to Vincent Soler, CEO of Capexo, the price of freight from Côte d’Ivoire is around €1/kg, with daily flights on several airlines. Now there are only one or two flights a week and the price is around €3/kg. Vanessa Gournay, logistics organiser at mango producer and COLEACP member Le Ranch du Koba, says that although the campaign in Côte d’Ivoire began a little late due to weather conditions, the mangoes (Kent variety) are very good quality, sweet and fragrant. Containment measures in Côte d’Ivoire to avoid spread of the virus include a 7:30 pm factory closure to allow people time to get home before the curfew. Free movement between the mango region in the north and the airport in the south of the country is still allowed for goods, but is forbidden for people. There is, however, an overall slowdown along the mango supply chain: the number of harvesters has to be limited; and work at packing stations is slowed down by around 40% as the curfew limits the hours of operation and there are fewer staff due to social distancing. Le Ranch du Koba has established new protocols, approved by plant protection officers, and has trained its staff on the new measures. The company also provides transport for its employees, ensuring handwashing with hydroalcoholic gel, temperature-taking and wearing of masks, and the buses are cleaned with bleach. Separate workstations have been installed on the production line and the number of sorters has been reduced; masks are compulsory (and changed several times a day), as well as the usual gloves and headgear. Because there is a shortage of masks (as in many countries), the company has had fabric masks made by local seamstresses, and washes them each day.
Côte d’Ivoire lifted restrictions on harvesting on 12 April, and the first mangoes are now arriving in the Netherlands by boat (Fresh Plaza, 4 May). The outlook for the mango season is positive, according to Van Ravenswaaij. “Peru is practically no longer on the market, which offers opportunities for mangoes from Côte d’Ivoire. Mali and South America currently do not have the desired volumes.” The coronavirus has had an impact in Côte d’Ivoire, with a curfew that means people are able to work fewer hours in a day and warehouses are not allowed to stay open. As fewer people are allowed to be in a warehouse at any one time, volumes will be lower this year. The harvest, however, appears to be the same as last year.
Wholesale markets in France are experiencing a certain dynamism and continue to supply France’s major cities. Decisions to reopen street markets in certain cities, and an increase in the volume of purchases of fresh fruit and vegetables both from specialist retailers and from mass retail stores, are helping to sustain activity. Since the beginning of the crisis, Rungis Market has set up a business continuity plan by facilitating the arrival of traders and the activity of transporters, by setting up safety measures (handwashing at the entrance to the pavilions, free distribution of masks). Wholesalers have given priority to taking orders over the telephone, and making deliveries at the entrance to the pavillions or on the quays. Financial aid has been provided for the companies most heavily affected (seafood and freshwater produce sector, flower sector, wholesalers working with the catering trade, etc.). Wholesalers who were already selling online saw their sales grow significantly, and others have used social networks to reach their customers. Rungis Market helped Ile de France fruit and vegetable producers and wholesalers by creating, in collaboration with a specialised company, a temporary online sales platform with a “Rungis delivered to your home” service for the most vulnerable people who cannot travel to do their shopping. It has also enabled local shops to use online sales thanks to the action of a start-up. Numerous wholesalers and importers have been delivering free of charge to hospitals or charities. (Source: Président-Directeur Général de la Semmaris)
The wholesale market in Lyon saw a 15–20% drop in traffic (Végétable, 21 April). However, the market is still active thanks to the reopening of full markets (35%) and the increase in activity among fruit and vegetable retailers who have been able to develop various services for their customers (telephone orders, home delivery). The market has no difficulty in supplying both French production and products from other EU countries.
The wholesale market in Marseille has maintained its activity since the beginning of the crisis. It is even reported that 80% of market operators have seen an increase in their activities since the beginning of the containment (FLD Hebdo, 30 April). The volumes of fruit and vegetables purchased are higher than for the same period in 2019. The market has not always been able to meet customer demand because supplies from Morocco and Spain have been difficult. Wholesalers specialising in out-of-home catering saw their turnover decrease between 70% and 90%. Others were able to maintain activity between 20 and 30% thanks to the supply to hospitals and retirement homes.
At the beginning of the containment period, the Lisbon wholesale market received more than 20,000 visits, compared to 15,000 in normal times – a 30% increase in demand (WUWM Newsletter, April). There was a 25% growth in sales of fresh fruit and vegetables. Companies serving the catering trade saw a sharp drop in business but had to reposition themselves to sell, for example, online to a new clientele and by developing home delivery services.
A recent study by Ecovia Research Intelligence shows that retailers around the world are experiencing strong growth in organic sales, and this trend is expected to continue. Whole Foods Market, the world’s largest natural food retailer, has had to limit the number of its online customers due to strong growth in demand; in the UK, Abel & Cole (online sales) has seen a 25% growth in demand, and there has been a sharp increase in demand for Riverford (organic fruit and vegetable producers). Food retailers have remained open during this period of crisis. In France, some stores saw increases in sales of more than 40%. Faced with this strong demand, the food production sector is faced with the problem of sourcing raw materials from producer countries in South America, Asia and Africa. In Germany, the consumption of organic fruit and vegetables has not weakened since the beginning of the crisis, and was reported to be around +30% in March. In 2019, sales of organic fruit and vegetables represented 473,600 tons. Large-scale distribution accounts for 65% of vegetable and 67% of fruit sales, and specialised distribution for 14% and 15%, respectively. Hard discount represents 28% in vegetables and 29% in fruit. In France, there has been a significant drop in sales of organic products in bulk (e.g. dried fruit) because consumers had health concerns and shops had to close. On the other hand, better sales have been reported for packaged products.
CBI, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, reports that the recent outbreak of the coronavirus has greatly affected people’s behaviour (https://www.cbi.eu/news/high-demand-processed-fruit-vegetables-due-covid-19/). On the demand side, people are stockpiling shelf-stable food like processed fruit and vegetables. On the supply side, companies are struggling to meet this demand due to labour and logistics capacity issues. Initial panic buying has positively affected the demand for canned beans, fruit and vegetables. All canneries around the world have large orders for smaller retail can sizes. But the demand for bigger cans for the foodservice sector has decreased due to restaurant closures. Producers of fresh products have had many order cancellations, forcing them to redirect products to processing. Fruit juice sales have also increased. The majority of bottling companies are focusing on the production of orange and apple juice, as exotic ingredients are hard to source. From the importer’s point of view, major ingredients such as frozen concentrated orange juice were also being ‘panic bought’. Frozen berries were also in higher demand (and had higher prices as a result) because of the idea that they strengthen the immune system.
In Belgium, according to a recent study carried out by GfK Belgium, 25% of those surveyed said they were consuming more fresh fruit and vegetables than before, and 20% said they would like to buy more fresh fruit and vegetables in the coming weeks. This is also linked to a tendency to prepare more meals at home, with 96% of Belgians having prepared home-cooked meals during the first 2 weeks of confinement (+33%).
In France, fruit and vegetable consumption is currently reported to be up 15%. However, the French consumers’ association UFC-Que Choisir compared two studies done before confinement (March) and after (April), and found an increase in fruit prices of +8%, +10% for vegetables, and +12% for organic fruit and vegetables. However, the President of French interprofessional organisation Interfel noted that the increase in fruit and vegetable prices in April was +3.5%. For some products, it is limited supply that causes the rise (pears, grapefruit, bananas, organic limes), and for some vegetables the rise is higher (lettuce, turnips, tomatoes). Several factors explain this increase: limitation of imports due to difficulties in international transport (road, air) and put forward by mass distribution of French origin (products with higher production costs than imported products); costs related to packaging because consumers prefer packaged fruit and vegetables for fear of contamination; and an increase in transport tariffs (lorries are less full). In the Netherlands, a study published by Supermarkt scanner mentions that the prices of some vegetables have increased significantly (cauliflower, courgettes, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, peppers, green beans and chicory). The study states that at the beginning of 2020, the trend was towards lower prices and there was a pause as soon as the anti-COVID measures were applied. Some vegetables, particularly from Spain, experienced peaks of +55% (beginning of March). Consumption behaviour may change in the future because consumers may find that eating fruit and vegetables offers a health benefit, but may also choose fruit with a longer shelf-life.
According to a joint statement by national organisations (INSEE, FranceAgrimer and Agreste), in April the consumption of pre-packed products is in line with consumer preferences, as well as the French seasonal products favoured by their promotion by the mass distribution (strawberries, asparagus, etc.). Some products have been widely supplied, such as apple and potato, but the lack of manpower has led to a supply deficit for some products such as endive, while for other products demand is higher than supply, such as strawberry, asparagus and tomato. Covered and open-air markets will reopen from 11 May. The French National Federation of Markets and other partner organisations have drawn up a guide to enable mayors to apply safety rules according to the type and size of each market. The aim is to reconcile the security of customers, traders and business activity. (Sources: Médiafel, 4 May, 5 May)
In the Netherlands, a study published by Supermarkt scanner mentions that the prices of some vegetables have increased significantly (cauliflower, courgettes, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, peppers, green beans and chicory). The study states that at the beginning of 2020, the trend was towards lower prices and there was a pause as soon as the anti-COVID measures were applied. Some vegetables, particularly from Spain, experienced peaks of +55% (beginning of March). Consumption behaviour may change in the future because consumers may find that eating fruit and vegetables offers a health benefit, but may also choose fruit with a longer shelf-life. The fruit and vegetable industry has launched a 6-week consumer awareness campaign to promote the benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables (Fruitnet, 1 May). The aim is to boost consumers’ morale, and their health. Strawberry, tomato, mango and cauliflower will be highlighted in the messages.
In Spain, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is publishing the results of a survey of 12,500 households conducted during the week of 13 April. It reveals an increase in the consumption of food products compared with the same period in 2019, particularly fresh and processed fruit (+66.1%), vegetables (+70.5%) and pulses (+77.2%). Traditional supermarkets and convenience stores saw their sales grow by +53.2% and +63%, respectively, and hard-discounters and hypermarkets saw sales grow by +40.4% and +32%, respectively. The fastest growth was in internet shopping, which increased by more than 200% compared with the same period in 2019. Under the supervision of Fepex (an organisation for the promotion of foreign trade), around 100 companies and production associations are currently launching a campaign to promote healthy eating habits. The slogan “Vive Saludablemente. Frutas y Verduras” (“Live Healthy. Fruit and Vegetables”), which will be broadcast on radio, television and social networks, aims to help society understand that fruit and vegetables are the basis of a healthy diet and help prevent illness. (Sources: FruitNet, 4 May; Fructidor, 6 May)
In Germany, the containment and closure of restaurants has led households to cook more. According to GfK, this had an immediate effect on the increase in consumption of fresh vegetables (+12% in volume terms) such as root vegetables (+21%) and onions (+34%), while fresh fruit also saw a slight increase in volume (Fruchthandel, 30 April). The prices increased slightly of fresh vegetables (+3.9% higher average prices/kg) and fresh fruit (+4%). The growth in sales of fruit and vegetables, and more difficult import conditions, also explain the increase in prices.
In several European countries, growers are finding it difficult to recruit labour to either harvest seasonal fruits and vegetables or plant vegetables. This usually foreign labour (from European and Mediterranean basin countries) can no longer circulate or enter Europe because of anti-virus barrier measures. Calls for volunteers were made in several countries, not always with satisfactory results. Many producer organisations have asked their governments and Europe to relax the ban measures.
In Germany, 40,000 seasonal workers are needed in April and May, and unfortunately they will not prevent bad harvests. For example, the strawberry season is starting and there is an urgent need for skilled workers with many years of experience in handling sensitive fruit (Fruchthandel, 4 May).
In France, at the end of April the authorities called for volunteers and 300,000 people registered on the platform “Des bras pour ton assiette”, but a few days before deconfinement, professionals are concerned that some volunteers might withdraw their applications. For the moment, there is more supply of manpower than demand for recruitment (Médiafel, 29 April).
Poland was one of the first European countries to close its borders at the beginning of the crisis, and now the agricultural sector is worried about a shortage of labour. The Ukrainian workers who make up a large proportion of these agricultural workers have returned home. There are calls for a relaxation of border-crossing procedures and work permits for these seasonal foreign workers (Fructidor, 29 April).
In Italy, four out of 10 companies in the fruit and vegetable sector are currently in difficulty. The main agricultural trade union has launched a “Jobincountry” recruitment platform and is negotiating with the Romanian Government to create a green corridor for Romanian seasonal workers to come and participate in seasonal work. These workers represent 30% of all foreign seasonal workers.
There is currently a shortage of 15,000 to 20,000 seasonal workers in the agricultural and horticultural sector in Belgium, according to a professional organisation. The months of May and June are important for sowing and harvesting (Fruchthandel, 5 May).
In the United Kingdom, the agricultural sector has estimated a need for 70,000 seasonal workers for the harvesting of fruit and vegetables, many of whom come from Eastern Europe. In March Concordia, a charity that recruits workers for British farms, was forced to airlift hundreds of Romanian workers to harvest fruit and vegetables on time because British workers who had responded to a national call declined their offer (FPC Fresh Talk Daily, 20 April).
The COVID-19 crisis has led to new eating and buying habits, and is likely to continue over time. The consulting firm Accenture conducted a study in April in 15 countries on more than 3,000 people. It suggests that consumers are going to reflect on their purchasing habits, on their health, and on the environment: 64% of consumers want to focus more on limiting food waste, 45% want to make more sustainable choices in their purchases, and 50% are now more concerned about their health.
Across Europe, when the first containment measures were announced, consumers bought in bulk and created scarcity of certain products. All waste treatment industries announced an increase in the volume of waste as many products could not be consumed (milk and other perishable goods). The announcement of restaurant closures automatically created unusable stocks, some of which were immediately redistributed to charities, hospitals, retirement homes, etc., but others were thrown away. However, a UK survey in April showed that 51% of respondents were wasting less food at mealtimes, and as many planned meals more carefully; 27% said they served portions that they needed, and about 33% made better use of their freezer for food storage. (Sources: FPC Fresh Talk Daily, 20 April, 4 May)