Covid continues to cast a long shadow over the European fresh produce business.

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, trade association Freshfel Europe set about assessing the impact of the crisis on Europe’s fruit and vegetable trade.

Now, after nearly a year of unprecedented disruption to several parts of the produce supply network – from production all the way through to wholesale, retail and foodservice – the financial impact of the crisis is becoming more clear.

Despite strong demand especially through the supermarkets, costs have increased significantly. Freshfel’s early estimate put additional operating costs for the European fresh produce chain at roughly €500m per month, as companies did everything they could to keep fruit and veg growing and flowing through the market.

But now, almost 12 months on, the organisation is looking further ahead, to gauge the pandemic’s longer-term effects. “I think Covid has also started to change consumer behaviour and the sector needs to adapt to that,” says Freshfel’s general delegate Philippe Binard.

Returning to Fruitbox, Fruitnet’s series of fresh produce industry conversations, for his second appearance on the show, Binard discusses how not just Covid but also Brexit. the EU’s Green Deal policy, online retailing, and the buying attitudes of younger consumers are all affecting the fresh produce business in Europe.

He also explains how longer-term concerns over the economy are going to play a far larger role in consumer behaviour in the coming months and years – something which will make consumer marketing campaigns like Freshfel’s own SpeakUp4FruitVeg promotion all the more crucial in building and sustaining demand.

“In the first wave of the pandemic, I think consumers have been keen to look for healthier products,” he recalls. “They were in an environment where they wanted to be reassured, so they were looking for more natural products, more local products, more pre-packed products. And there has been shift in the attitudes of consumers, moving to online shopping also.”

Constantly changing

While all of these factors have certainly changed the way consumers shop and the way retailers service that demand, Binard believes the coming months could bring more new trends.

“As we move to the second and third waves, there is another important element which is growing uncertainty about the economic situation,” he says. “People are losing their jobs, and that could have an impact on consumer attitudes. Remember in the first wave everyone was looking for premium, organic products. I think this is over and consumers are looking out much more for [lower] prices.”

He adds: “We will have to see which of these changes will be the short-term reaction, and which will be more permanent in the attitudes of consumers in the longer term.”

Earlier this week, Freshfel Europe and the OECD published the first ever extensive study of fresh produce sold through online vendors, an area of the market that it said had seen considerable growth but also huge variety in terms of methods of distribution, marketing and so on.

Hosted by Chris White in London, Fruitbox now attracts a big audience across the global fruit and vegetable business that tunes in every week to hear exclusive interviews and expert analysis. Produced by Fruitnet Media International, the show is essential listening for everyone in the fresh produce industry.

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