During what has been a tumultuous and unpredictable four years for the US politically and socially, it’s fair to say that life in the country’s fresh fruit and vegetable business has been a little less uncertain.

However, as in most parts of the world, the impact of Covid-19 has been considerable. In particular, the closure of foodservice outlets has had a dramatic effect on a market where previously around 35 per cent of the fruit and veg eaten, and about half of all the food, would have been consumed outside of the home.

But with a new president in the White House, and crucially with a new administration in place, it seems an air of renewed optimism could help shape the US produce market to keep growing over the coming years,

For Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive of the Washington DC-based United Fresh Produce Association, recent political events in the city were a watershed for the country’s democracy and also its fresh produce industry.

Witnessed by millions around the world, the Capitol riot on 6 January and Joe Biden’s inauguration exactly two weeks later represented a real turning point in the state of affairs, he suggests.

“It was a momentous event in the history of this country and there is obviously going to be a change,” he tells Chris White in the latest episode of Fruitbox, Fruitnet’s weekly series of fresh produce conversations. “President Biden has come in and set a different tone from the very beginning. It was inclusive, reaching out to people who disagree.

Re-establishing connections

The art of disagreement, rather than the art of the deal, has always been more the fresh produce industry’s style, Stenzel suggests. “I think about us in the produce industry. Oh my gosh, buyers and sellers are negotiating, buying and selling every single day. For some reason, our politicians in the United States and many other countries sadly don’t seem to have that skill set that we in the fresh produce industry have.”

He adds: “But I do have that little bit of optimism. I believe President Biden will be reaching out, changing that mood, and re-establishing America’s connections around the world.”

That optimism will be much needed of course as the US produce industry continues to grapple with the pandemic. According to Stenzel, the trade is “functioning pretty well” despite having to contend with a major shift in its supply chains to retail. Spending power is certain to be an issue for more consumers in the near future, but he believes the big lesson of Covid for many will be that eating fruit and veg is critical for short and long-term health.

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.

All previous episodes of Fruitbox can be found on any of the following podcast services:

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Produced by Fruitnet Media International, the show is essential listening for everyone in the fresh produce industry.

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