“It has been a huge challenge to the food service sector to reinvent itself rapidly," says Nige

After a few weeks lock down in the UK, things have changed dramatically for people in every walk of life, but how have the fresh produce traders adapted to keeping people supplied and keeping their businesses afloat?

The supply of fresh produce into the country is complex as it differs from different sources, but there seem to be less delays at European borders and the roads are empty but according to some sources finding trucks is difficult and can be expensive.

The industry has worked extremely hard to meet both the impact of the coronavirus on their individual businesses and the local area but at the same time have risen to the challenge of a substantial increase in demand and orders.

“We are in a situation where sector by sector there are challenges and the food service sector has been hit particularly hard by the closing of the hospitality trade,” explains Nigel Jenney CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium.

“We have reminded the minister of the importance of the whole industry not just one part. The wholesale sector and the independent retailers are extremely important in terms of the sales they represent which is around 35% of volume, including food service and to consumers, be that farm shops, street traders or covered markets they are all important sources for food for the nation. There are around 1000 street traders and market traders around the country.”

When this over it will really make both the industry and consumers reflect upon how they will manage their lives in the future, according to Nigel. “It has been a huge challenge to the food service sector to reinvent themselves rapidly and many of them have done that within days and all credit to them and it gives them potentially a new market to focus on in the future which could be that direct relationship to independent traders with consumers for home delivery service.

“What we are finding is that these independent traders are providing a great service and orders are often delivered within 24 hours and with great quality produce.”

Supply

Availability differs from product to product, there are always challenges even in a normal season, so from a consumer point of view their favourite fruit or vegetable may not be on the shelf because it has been heavily traded that day but there will be other produce available.

The UK labour is issue is a material challenge there have been a number initiatives to encourage people to work in the food industry and in particular on farms and there has been a good response, which is positive for harvesting and packing of UK produce but the challenge may come in a few more weeks if more people get ill or when businesses which have been temporarily closed open again.

“We need to guard against the general statement that we are in a key industry, therefore we are all working as normal - if your business is in the food service sector it has been massively impacted. Many have a been great at reinventing themselves as delivery services but the impact on these businesses should not be underestimated.

"The government can’t solve everything for everybody and there is a lot of talk about grants and loans, but even from a grant point of view I have received comment that is has become very difficult to secure those sums as the company is not considered to be in the restaurant industry if they are the suppliers to the industry, but if the customer is not operating it has had a material impact on their business as well.

"Also, many are finding it very difficult to access the loans. The figures I’m hearing today are that only 2% are being approved - this is simply not credible and I don’t believe this is what the government would have wanted.”

For more information:

Nigel Jenney Fresh Produce Consortium Tel: +44 (0)1733 237117 nigel@freshproduce.org.uk

First published in Fresh Plaza