The question of how companies along the fresh produce supply chain were overcoming the challenges created by Covid-19, was raised at World of Fresh Ideas.
In a session dedicated to the past, present and future of the business in light of the pandemic, Philippe Binard of Freshfel Europe was on hand to lend his expert opinion to proceedings.
"Back in 2019, everyone was talking about Brexit, about sustainability and plastics, and since then all anyone has been able to focus on is Covid," explained Binard. "For the first time, we had a lack of visibility, we did not know what tomorrow was going to bring. However, the sector has demonstrated great resilience."
Some of the changes to the industry as a result of Covid-19 have included a move from global to local business, a boost in home consumption, pressure on the foodservice business, a boom in digitalisation, and concerns over essential supply and food security, Binard noted.
Cost-cutting across the supply chain has been having a major impact, especially in areas such as logistics and the workforce, but the industry has succeeded in continually getting fresh produce onto the shelves, he continued.
"If we look at intra-EU trade (for the March-December 2020 period) we see a 30 per cent decrease year-on-year, meaning much more product has remained in the member states where they were grown," Binard continued. "Exports to outside the EU have fallen 22 per cent, with logistical difficulties in containers and airfreight really impacting the trade flow."
Things are looking up, with the vaccine programme roll-out creating a more positive feel in Europe, although he warned that logistics, the threat of new variants, and the need to secure seasonal workers would continue to create challenges for the business.
Consumer attitudes were also changing, Binard outlined, with home consumption driving areas like home delivery and click-and-collect. Adaptation was required in areas such as packaging and e-commerce, while he said that questions remained over impulse buying in-store with more choosing to shop remotely.
"With regards to the future, I think we have to look at how to cope with restrictions on the movement of people and products to ensure they can both travel," he said. "We have to ensure there is a good European response to this, and from a Freshfel point of view maintain the Green Lane."
The fruit and vegetable sector remained in an overall strong position, Binard confirmed, with demand high, although the industry would have to continue to analyse what consumers were doing and adapt accordingly.
"In the long-term there is no doubt we have fantastic momentum, we can build on the health and environmental aspects of the industry from a Covid-19 perspective," he added. "In the post-Covid era, we must ensure fruit and vegetables are part of the solution, part of the new reality. It's a nice sector to work in because we have some good years ahead."