( The Packer )

The coronavirus COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to our world.

We are still in the midst of it, and it will likely get worse, somehow, before getting better.

I recently asked the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group about the pandemic’s potential to further disrupt the produce industry. What part of the supply chain is most vulnerable?

In this context, sustainability has nothing to do with bio-based packaging. No, sustainability is all about still being around in six months, with a workable balance sheet.

The question: 

What is the”weakest link” of the produce supply chain and how is the coronavirus stressing the sustainability of continued stability?

Here are some answers from the group

  • Labor shortage combined with cash flow caused from slow paying food service which is already seeking assistance not realizing we have 3k customers in the same boat. This is so bad;
  • Food supply is critical – we must keep it going otherwise with self-isolation and lack of income there will be other social consequences
  • Our people working at fields and packinghouses.
  • Seasonal workers
  • The assessment of risk is tricky. Without a disciplined method, we end  up debating the likelihood and impact of various factors without a frame of reference. People of course are the carriers of this virus, along with most surfaces, and that tends to focus our analysis of risk in those areas. But what if somewhere along your chain there is a small but highly contagious element? That would focus attention on something we might not typically consider. Something ‘small, yet mighty’. Perhaps a vehicle? A construction site nearby? A portion of a facility that is not considered core to that operation?
  •  With so much imported .. and other economies in the same boat .logistics strained. is anyone looking at availability several weeks down the line;
  • I think the weakest link of the produce supply chain is lack of Supply Chain Data Analytics. I think managers must Democratize business information sharing and data insights in decision making;
  • The weakest link is the logistics of all... starting with getting the people to the field so  you can harvest, then packing, then to the retailer/distributor and finally to the shelf for the public to get it. Doing all this while keeping the people safe and no spreading the virus; 
  • What I am encountering is the difficulty to refill demand at retail level. Resources are limited on how much can be delivered to each store each day. This limits what is re supplied and bought from us as growers or suppliers;
  • It is currently causing a lack of certain item being available to consumers and disrupting markets; and
  • I think if the food service sector starts delaying and defaulting in a big way that cash flow could ripple back.  United Fresh is totally right about this issue. 

TK: Follow the money. Or put another way, follow the lack of money. Both consumers and businesses that have been hurt by the cessation of normal activity must regain their footing, and hopes are that can be done with the help of the federal stimulus package. Will life return to normal by August, or August 2021? Clearly, the resiliency of farm labor throughout the span of this crisis also has many worried.  On the bright side, even the weakest link of the produce supply chain may be stronger than we can imagine.