15 July 2020

Short Story: How COVID-19 is Transforming the Food Industry

The food industry has been affected by COVID-19 in various ways.


Consumers are finding necessities like toilet paper and pantry staples hard to come by. However, producers of fresh food like fruit, vegetables and dairy products are facing an entirely different situation. Farmers are dealing with piles of potential food waste.


The issue is not a shortage – there are mountains of produce and oceans of milk – but an excess of food that would have normally gone to restaurants.


In 2018, USDA data showed Americans spent more on restaurant food (~$678B) than they spent at groceries and warehouse clubs (~$627B). But today, demand has dwindled due to a shift from foodservice to food retail.


The result – crops are going rotten. According to the VP of the DiMare tomato company, 10M pounds of tomatoes are not being picked. At another farm, 1M pounds of green beans and 4M pounds of cabbage will be churned into mulch.


The crisis extends beyond the US. In the Netherlands, potatoes are being sold at a fraction of their usual price.


There is just too much. The good thing? We have seen more collaboration between groups.


Nonprofits are overwhelmed with extra produce. Some are working together with restaurants to turn the extra ingredients into heavily subsidized meals for those in need. Some would say the pandemic has created a Robin Hood effect where some restaurants like an oyster house in Philadelphia gave away free oysters before they were set to be closed.


Restaurants are carving new outlets for fresh food and are going beyond the typical food delivery definition. Roles are even being reversed as some eateries have reinvented themselves as full-on groceries.


The pandemic has made us rethink how to do things and how we consume and buy food, now for the greater good of our communities; this is one small step toward change.


During this challenging time, let's work together. Be cognizant of the food you have and try not to waste anything. Also, continue to support local food and farmers. Prioritize the immediate needs of vulnerable communities, yet still, plan for a better future.


We can motivate each other to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not become a humanitarian and food crisis catastrophe.