Packer Interview - Craig Carlson May 18
( Photo courtesy Craig Carlson; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

As a result of the unprecedented disruptions to today’s produce supply chain, what can the industry plan for as the new normal? Here are some new practices and a number of open-ended questions to which the retail industry will need to respond as businesses re-open over the course of the next few months. 

What new practices will become standard for the operation of the stores, offices, warehouses and packing operations to make consumers and employees to feel safe?

These could include implementation of protective sanitary barriers; use of protective garments and masks; new office layouts to support the new social distancing norm; and strict new standard sanitation processes will need to be developed. 

What retail shopping behaviors will continue to be a part of this new normal?

Shoppers are buying more during the week versus on the weekends; using lists and limiting impulse purchases; choosing bagged over bulk purchases; more frequently using online delivery and store pick-up options; and cooking at home more often and are interested in educational resources and recipe ideas for items like cooking vegetables, mushrooms and herbs.

What will change in retail go-to-market strategies?

Retail assortment strategies will need to evolve; and promotional strategies will change.

How will consumer purchases vary during a downturn in the economy?

How will the supply chains evolve?

Specifically, how will growers plan and forecast their planting for this new normal? What role will local suppliers support this new capacity? How will direct store delivery (DSD) solutions evolve? How will forward distribution and cross-dock models support growth? How can the retail and foodservice industries collaborate in the future?

All of this underscores what the new normal could be as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. As leaders, our responsibility is to provide a sense of security for both our staff and customers. Shopping for produce has changed and will need to permanently evolve to address the issues outlined above. 

All of these factors will be critical in answering what the new normal will look like in the months ahead. The most important factor as leaders will be to ensure that both your customers and employees feel safe. 

Additionally, there will need to be an intense focus on understanding your customer and how to satisfy their unique needs. Online shopping, both on the delivery and click-and-collect fronts, has gained significant traction and is here to stay. 

Distribution to the online channel will be critical in ensuring the long-term health of the industry. Shopping behaviors, relationships and supply chains are changing. 

Now is the time to implement all the necessary work streams for your organization to turn that disruption into sustained growth.

Craig Carlson is the CEO of Carlson Produce Consulting LLC. 

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