Coosemans, which has Florida offices in Miami and Tampa and serves retail, foodservice and wholesale customers, is increasing its focus on retail right now, says director of marketing and business development Claudia Miranda, with an emphasis on ‘Specialty Produce for All.’ ( Courtesy Coosemans Interproduce Divisions )

COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the economy of Florida, nearly stopping tourism and related industry in its tracks since mid-March.

A document presented to Floria Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Re-open Florida Task Force from the Florida Chamber of Commerce in late April said the state economy prior to COVID-19 was characterized by a strong economy and low unemployment. 

Before COVID-19, Florida:

  • was the third-most-populated state in America, growing 900 people every day, with 810 from other states and countries;
  • had been creating 1 in every 11 new U.S. jobs since 2015;
  • was the world’s 17th largest economy (at $1.1 trillion) with a Florida 2030 Blueprint goal of 10th largest economy by 2030;
  • was adding $1.19 million in income migration per hour (24/7/365):
  • had unemployment at 2.8% (291,000 unemployed), with 340,800 open and unfilled jobs (as of February 2020); and
  • had the 20th most diversified economy in U.S. with a Florida 2030 Blueprint goal of Top 12 by 2030.

There are a number of factors that make Florida’s COVID-19 reality different from other states. Florida’s Chamber of Commerce report said that 20% of Florida’s tax receipts come from tourism, and 79% of general revenues come from sales and use taxes. About 21% of the state’s population is 65 or older.

About 900,000 jobs are dependent on tourism, according to the report. 

With more than 41,366 restaurants in 2019, Florida’s foodservice jobs totaled 1.1 million and accounted for 12% of the state’s total employment, according to the National Restaurant Association. The state’s restaurants generated more than $50 billion sales in 2018, according to the group.

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Future projections

The Florida Chamber of Commerce report’s “optimistic” scenario puts Florida’s return to pre-COVID 19 levels by the fourth quarter of this year, while the “pessimistic” scenario puts a return to normal at the second quarter of 2024. 

The 2020 expected change in Florida’s gross domestic product was -2.3% for the optimistic scenario and -8.9% for the pessimistic view.

Reopening 

Gov. DeSantis partially lifted his “safer at home” ordinance on May 4, excluding three South Florida counties with high numbers of cases. 

The partial reopening will allow restaurants and retail shops to begin operating at limited capacity.

According to phase one guidelines, restaurants and food establishments should operate at no more than 25% capacity, with appropriate social distancing and a minimum of six feet separating parties.

“I want to thank Gov. DeSantis for his measured and thoughtful approach to safely re-opening Florida businesses,” Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a news release. 

“Our hospitality industry is eager to welcome guests, within social distancing guidelines, and get back to what we are so good at — creating memorable experiences for those we serve. We have full confidence that Gov. DeSantis and this administration will lead the tourism state we are so proud of back to economic vitality.”

Some Democratic lawmakers said the governor was moving too fast on reopening, and that the state didn’t have a comprehensive testing plan.

Phase two of Florida’s reopening, according to the governor’s office, will begin after the successful conclusion of the first phase. 

“This will occur when there is no evidence of a rebound or resurgence of COVID-19 cases and satisfies the benchmarks outlined in this plan,” the document said. Media reports said that Gov. DeSantis expected each phase of the reopening to last weeks, rather than months.

Under phase two guidelines, Florida restaurants and food establishments should operate at no more than 75% of building capacity, with appropriate social distancing and a minimum of 6 feet separating parties.

Like phase two, phase three will begin by executive order when the governor feels the state has had continued success against the virus, according to the document.

In phase three, restaurants and food service establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols.

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Industry expectations

Florida is a long way from coming back, said Joel Silverman, president and owner of Paradise Produce Distributors Inc., Lakeland, Fla.  

“Hopefully it will come back,” Silverman said.

Claudia Miranda, director of marketing and business development at Coosemans Interproduce Divisions, Miami, said the environment is “slowly but surely” getting better. Coosemans has 26 U.S. offices nationwide, including two in Florida, in Miami and Tampa. The company has done business in Florida for 30 years, and serves retail, foodservice and wholesale customers.

While foodservice sales are beginning to rebound slightly now, Miranda said Coosemans has used the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis as a way to streamline business operations and to pick up sales from retail customers.

The firm handles a wide variety of produce commodities, and its strength is specialty produce.

“We believe we can maintain (retail sales) with programs with growers from Mexico and Central America,” she said.

Coosemans has not suffered reduced availability of produce in Miami because of COVID-19, and Coosemans has enjoyed strong sales of tropical fruit such as papayas, mangoes and pineapple to retail customers.

Miranda said the gain in retail business has been “good news” and there are signs that foodservice sales are poised to grow in the weeks ahead.

In addition, Miranda said Coosemans has developed a program to sell produce boxes directly to consumers and sees gains with that program.

The company’s revamped website, www.coosemansinterproduce.com, is designed to help people cook at home.

With school out until August or September, there are no likely scenarios where demand bounces all the way back very quickly. 

Coosemans is planning on marketing the idea of “Specialty Produce for All” and looking to further build its retail sales.

“We have a great opportunity and responsibility to our growers to educate the end consumer with specialty produce,” she said. “We are going to go after that.” 

Stay up to date on COVID-19 news here.

 
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