In the Trenches: The post-pandemic period
In 1996, I attended a World Series game between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves with two co-workers. The Yankees were on the field and a fellow sitting in the row in front of us wearing a Derek Jeter shirt suddenly yelled out in a thunderous voice, “Be ready infield. No two bounces are alike.”
One of my co-workers said, “Just like us in produce. No two days are alike.”
As I reflect on those words, there are no two years alike either. We should always stay on top of what may be forthcoming in produce. It’s important to identify the successes and failures of activities based on the prior year. Keeping pace with every experienced detail will strengthen future decisions in order to cover any bad bounces that may approach us.
After every current event, especially promotions, we would evaluate the results and record notes for the following year, considering the strong and weak points of each promotion. This made it easier to make rational decisions going forward.
In retrospect, a number of aspects that turned out positive were worth repeating. Several implementations were turned into policies and others were eliminated due to lack of success.
Without a doubt, we experienced an intense six months in the first half of 2020. Sparked by COVID-19, March and April accelerated into a frantic whirlwind of activity. Grocery retailers were notably confronted with the sudden influx of panic-stricken consumers buying and stockpiling product, which wiped out the shelves. Masks and sanitizers were few and far between, creating another overwhelming demand.
There are now more signs of normalcy as people are being fully vaccinated. Even though it is a slow process during this post-COVID-19, there is a natural sentiment among people and companies to be overly cautious. The best practices put in place from the past year will make it easier to move forward. For example, Intense sanitization programs will be an extreme objective of all businesses for the future.
Dan Avakian, better known as Dan the Produce Man, and a former owner/operator of a retail produce market in Alameda, CA, told me, “We have different problems this year than last such as the truck shortage and the skyrocketing rates, the pallet shortage, and labor shortage. Although retail sales overall are not as strong as last year at this time, we do have a solid start to the cherry and stone fruit season, which typically gives a boost to department sales throughout the summer. The stores did a fantastic job during COVID-19 keeping up with the upsurge in customer demand, heightened sanitation, and kept the product stocked. As things slowly return to normal, there will be no excuse to ease up on the positive experiences learned during the pandemic period. Retaining fresh product, preserving sanitation, and holding on to the workers will pay off in the outcome.”
Here is a look at some of the primary segments of the coronavirus time period. Some of the installed applications may subsequently remain from what was learned as positive.
•Masks and social distancing: These two guidelines helped in keeping the virus controlled. People who become apprehensive during post-pandemic times may choose to continue wearing a mask.
• Sanitation: Extreme cleaning and wiping down fixtures became a high priority function, especially in produce departments. Stores were cleaning prior to the coronavirus and will continue that policy even more intensely afterwards.
• Online grocery shopping: This segment saw extensive growth prior to COVID-19 and experienced a huge surge during the pandemic. It may decline a few percentage points as consumers get their vaccines and are eager to return to physical shopping.
• Working remotely: Companies learned that employees were still quite productive working at home. Much of this remote procedure will be maintained by businesses during the post-pandemic stage.
• Home cooking: People learned how to become good cooks and may continue with home meals. But as restaurants reopen their doors, much of it could change.
• Virtual events: Conventions and conferences aren’t as productive or fun watching them on a monitor screen. Getting back to the live handshake gatherings again is the reality we all favor. However, many small-scale virtual programs will still be adapted
The months ahead will see gradual changes as consumers find more trust in returning to a vaccinated post-pandemic life again. It won’t be easy as a portion of individuals will have the propensity to step back into their old routine. But they will find that the climate has significantly changed with new practices applied from what we learned during the age of coronavirus. No two lifestyles from the past to the present will be alike.
Ron Pelger is the owner of RonProCon, a produce industry advisory firm. He is also a produce industry merchandising director and a freelance writer. He can be contacted at 775/843-2394 or by e-mail at [email protected].