The Packer’s Tom Karst visited April 6 with Trent Bishop, vice president of sales for J&D Produce, Edinburg, Texas.
Bishop said the south Texas firm is entering its busiest time of year, with Texas onions in great supply and watermelons around the corner.
The restrictions that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic have led to much of the administrative and sales staff working remotely and field and packinghouse workers taking extensive new precautions to prevent spread of the disease.
“We are very, very grateful for all those employees who are continuing to keep us up and running,” he said.
Now limited to Zoom meetings and phone calls, Bishop said relationships with customers are still important to maintain.
“What we’re trying to do is take advantage of technology, making sure that we stay In front of our customers as much as they want to see us and certainly continue to try to provide solutions,”
Adjusting to fast-changing demand conditions takes strong relationships with buyers, he said.
“I’ve always said that you can really tell a person’s or a business’s character based on the way that they (are) in these kind of very stressful environments,” Bishop said. “We understand that our retail partners are facing some very stressful and unprecedented times, and so what we’re trying to do is just make ourselves solutions-based,” he said. “We’re trying to help them figure out the best way to fulfill their demands, their consumers needs.”
Those short-term retail adjustments, for some, have included cutting down the number of SKUs they carry. That means lost business for some items.
“We understand that, and so in times like this, we want to be remembered as a supplier that helps (customers) come up with solutions,” he said
Consumers who lost jobs or income because of the COVID-19 crisis may be forced to cut their normal budget for fruits and vegetables, Bishop said.
“Some of the items that might otherwise be put in a shopping cart might be considered somewhat of a luxury right now,” he said.
“As time goes on, and people’s paychecks get affected, I think we’re going to find is that the staples are going to continue to be sought after and very high demand, and maybe some of the peripheral products we might see those start to fade a little bit.”
Bishop said that the industry is hungry to get back to a sense of normalcy.
“Certainly we’re facing some unprecedented, stressful and tough times,” he said. “But we’re resilient, and we’re going to be okay.”
Bishop said the industry needs farm labor reform more than ever.
“I think (the COVID-19 crisis) has helped everybody realize just how dependent we’ve come we’ve come on international sources of manufacturing and produce,” he said. “We have the ability to do it here; we just need to make sure we have an ample workforce to make it happen.”