Produce Marketing Association (PMA) convened its members from across the global produce and floral communities to discuss the pandemic’s impact on their businesses during Wednesday’s Virtual Town Hall. With over 800 members registered from 21 countries, the meeting showcased the way the global food and floral supply chain is focused on working together to address our “new normal.”
The virtual town hall featured perspectives from PMA CEO Cathy Burns, chief science officer Max Teplitski, and Cornerstone Government Affairs’ principal and director, Hunt Shipman.
Their remarks focused on how the industry can educate consumers on critical topics like the health and wellness benefits of fresh fruit, vegetables and floral; safe handling of fresh produce; and e-regulatory updates regarding COVID-19.
Members then joined one of a series of virtual roundtables to provide focused discussion around topics directly impacting members and their businesses. Each of these group discussions were led by a PMA expert who was joined by a global industry leader to provide on-the-ground insights around global trade, supply chain, foodservice, retail, floral, and growers/shippers.
“Listening to the opening comments from Cathy, Max, and Hunt, and then hearing my colleagues and friends in the floral business openly talk about their challenges they’re facing but also having the platform to learn from one another really underscored to me how this association can forge connections and stronger communities,” said PMA Chair, Joe Don Zetzsche, Director of Blooms Flower Shops for H-E-B. “The town hall modeled our values of community, character, and courage and emphasized the power and value of PMA membership to help guide us through these times.”
While PMA will continue to provide resources capturing the conversations from the virtual town hall meeting, some themes discussed were:
With members from Mexico, Singapore, the EU, Colombia, Peru, the United States, and China all providing insights, the discussion focused on what is becoming a pattern from country to country as the pandemic progresses. This includes an initial rise in retail from panic buying, making it difficult to anticipate demand, followed by a stabilizing period where the largest questions remaining are about trade and logistics.
This roundtable highlighted differences between European challenges and what is becoming a challenge in the United States. Within Europe, fewer retailers are geared to support e-commerce or online grocery shopping. Additionally, with air freight deeply impacted, maintaining capacity in the supply chain has become a challenge while ground transportation has seen fewer problems. In the United States, the main delays are not at ports or border crossings; they are at distribution centers waiting to be unloaded, possibly due to facility policies around social distancing among the workforce.
Floral is experiencing unprecedented disruptions as consumer panic buying is forcing retailers to distribute limited labor towards other parts of the store to meet demand; however, there are signs that as panic buying subsides, warehouse demand will stabilize and provide an opportunity for the floral sector to regain its position in the market. Floral and PMA leaders are diving into consumer-facing messaging reminding people of the wellness benefits for floral which is especially important at this time.
Similar to other roundtable discussions, this group confirmed the stabilization of retail traffic. Members from multiple companies were reflecting similar challenges, ranging from a decrease in trucks for produce as other products grew in demand, to childcare issues facing retail employees whose children are out of schools. Most retailers are seeing the same core group of products - including bananas, potatoes, carrots and onions – make up the bulk of purchases.
As with floral, foodservice has seen a considerable amount of disruption from the operator through the supply chain. Discussions here focused on how foodservice is responding to the crisis by offering take-out and delivery approaches and even trimming down menus. There were also instances of collaboration to save fresh product as well as jobs, including distributing directly to retailers who were reducing produce deliveries to account for other high-demand items. Members remain optimistic to the future but are concerned about how the supply chain will be able to meet restaurants’ needs in a post-COVID-19 world.
Here, industry leaders from the U.S. South Africa, and Spain discussed the uncertainties facing growers and shippers globally. While the supply chain is stable, a shared major concern is maintaining labor in a way that is safe for employees and their employers. They pointed to PMA’s resources that guide growers and shippers on supporting a safe work environment.
“Today’s virtual town hall brought together members from across the global produce and floral communities to provide connections and information to help navigate this unprecedented situation,” said PMA CEO Cathy Burns. “As we adjust to our new reality, we know the role we play in making our world better by providing consumers with fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and plants – and we’ll be reinforcing this role through efforts to reassure shoppers that fresh produce and floral products are available and safe during this crisis.”
This is the first in a series of virtual town halls designed to provide the most updated information to the industry while also providing an opportunity for members to connect across the entire supply chain. PMA will continue to share learnings from the virtual town halls for all industry members. PMA will release details for the next Virtual Town Hall which will take place next week.