Furthermore, consumers are limiting their shopping trips and changing the nature in which they shop. Fresh fruits and veggies have always been that bright colorful and inviting section of the store that drives impulse sales. Now, there is an increased demand for packaged produce as consumers’ perception is that produce has been handled less often and is, therefore, safer when packaged. Sales of canned and frozen produce have also grown. While these changes can be tracked with retail scan data, reacting to these shifts on the farm or in the orchard is not so simple. The nature of growing is complicated and dramatically changes depending on whether you are growing for processing or growing for fresh commodity sales.
Firstly, there are different pre- and post-harvest activities. Input costs are significantly higher when growing for the fresh market since consumers expect to produce to look fresh, colorful, and practically perfect. For example, tree crop growers will actively prune and thin during bloom to increase the eventual size of the fruit that each tree will produce. If they don’t, the result is a small fruit sizing that is not desirable in the fresh market. This and other activities are costly and begin early in the growing process. With foodservice closures sweeping the globe in February and March, most planting and pre-harvest activities had been completed. It’s impossible for growers to pivot that quickly.
Secondly, the pack types and pack sizes for distribution to restaurants, hotels, hospitals, schools, and other ‘out-of-home’ eating facilities that define foodservice is very different than preparing produce for retail. Retail packaging requires information printed on-pack for the consumer. They are also the silent sales tools that growers rely on to create demand for their specific offerings. Produce destined for retail is focused on merchandising within the produce department. Produce destined for foodservice is all about efficiency: think limited cooler and counter space, no branding or consumer messaging required.
Completely re-tooling your packing line to accommodate for this is a huge undertaking and a risky investment when no one can be certain as to when, where, or how foodservice activities will return.