Brighter Light at End of the Tunnel

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the January 2021 issue of Produce Business.

With the start the new year, it is always appropriate to look back upon the previous year to determine what lessons can be learned and what actions should be taken to take advantage of any opportunities that were presented. Upper management often looks back on a year and outlines the mistakes and negative activity that occurred and outlines ways to correct them so they don’t happen in the new year. Given the unique and unpredictable nature of 2020, we cannot afford to concentrate on the negative and not learn from this major crisis and unique nature of the pandemic. Upper management’s normal preoccupation with the negative proves once again “they just don’t get it!”

The lessons we have learned and the solutions we have created during 2020 will have long-lasting implications on all our operations. The world of Produce has been very fortunate during this pandemic to have been a valuable, essential part of dealing with the challenges represented by the spread of COVID-19. The ability of the produce industry to adjust and to persevere through the challenges of the closing down of the foodservice sector, and the many other challenges created by the fast-spreading virus, is a testament to the flexibility and talents of all those throughout the industry.

The retail sector rallied to offer additional marketplaces for product that was destined for the foodservice industry. Growers adjusted their production schedules and plantings to take advantage of these other opportunities so that an abundant supply of produce was maintained throughout the year. Basically, it was to the entire industry’s credit that, by working in concert, the supply of nutritious fresh produce was always available for the needs of the consuming public.

We in the retail industry learned some key lessons on how to maintain our operations during this challenging time. By utilizing proven cleaning and sanitation methods throughout our departments that we have developed over the years and by concentrating on the safety of our employees and the consumer while they are shopping in the store, we were able to provide a haven where they could shop with confidence to obtain the fresh product needed without fear of contracting the virus.

Additional efforts at grocery pickup and delivery also helped to ensure availability of produce to everyone regardless of their mobility and capabilities. The successful execution of the strategy is something that we can be proud of and needs to remain a key part of our continuing strategies going forward in 2021. While there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel with the development of vaccines for the virus, there are still many months ahead of us where the virus will continue to rage through the population, and the need for availability of food, especially fresh produce, will continue to be a priority for customers.

Going forward, we must continue to exhibit the resiliency and flexibility that have served us so well during the pandemic. We must continue to work with our suppliers and everyone in the supply chain to remove the barriers to the efficient distribution of our products across the nation and the world. We must continue to safeguard the safety of our most valuable resource, our produce personnel, and support them in all their endeavors to provide a safe haven for our customers to obtain the fresh produce that they need.
We also must explore any new ways of making our products available to the widest possible numbers of consumers across all economic and demographic groups so we can use the nutritional value of our product to maintain and improve the overall health of the total population. This will not be easy; however we must work toward this goal if we are to take advantage of the opportunity to introduce more people to our products and their health advantages.

All the lessons we have learned in the past 12 months have made us better, more responsive retailers to our customers. We have had to face challenges that no one had foreseen and engineer and innovative solutions that have provided an incalculable benefit to everyone we serve. Our best course going forward is to maintain this mindset of overcoming all problems and continuing to make every effort to provide an abundant and readily accessible supply of fresh produce.

If we do this, we will have advanced our industry and its capabilities beyond anything that we have ever considered prior to COVID-19 and will have gained the appreciation and confidence of the consumer in our ability to provide them with nutritious food no matter what the circumstances. Armed with this knowledge, we can further advance our industry into 2021 and continue to persevere through this difficult time and move toward the bright light at the end of the tunnel.