UK fresh produce suppliers are working extra hard to keep critical fruit and vegetable imports coming to the UK, as the coronavirus pandemic affects global supply chains.
Fresh produce growers and supermarket suppliers are reassuring people that business will continue as normal, despite fears over global labour shortages and border closures, while shoppers continue to panic-buy groceries, leaving many fresh produce aisles empty by lunch.
“If you read some of the headlines you might think that nobody in Spain was in the field picking fruit. The reality is from a growing perspective, people are in the field working, people are in the packhouse,” says Rob Cullum, managing director of Pacific Produce, which grows and supplies fresh produce for supermarkets.
“Everything is a little bit slower, and everyone has to understand that,” he added. In Peru, where Pacific Produce source from, Cullum said that growing operations were continuing with some added protocols, despite the Peruvian government introducing lockdown measures.
One major supplier said: “It’s a testament to our supply chain that we’re still getting stuff through.”
According to the supplier, air-freighted fresh produce is the worst hit, with delays and price rises resulting from the cancellation of passenger flights, on which much fresh produce is also transported.
Road transport through Europe is also seeing delays as drivers stop sharing cabs.
Yesterday the pound also reached its lowest rate against the dollar for 35 years, at £1.15, making transport even more expensive. “The financial implications are the most worrying,” said the supplier.
He added that one likelihood going forward is the simplification of product ranges delivered to supermarkets, saying “we’re working with customers to take the complexity out”.
Topfruit importer, Tom Lowes, owner of Fruit Vision, who imports from Italy, said working together and keeping the spirits up of customers “is essential”.
“At Fruit Vision we will experience some restrictions on supply, but we are well placed to keep going and bring forward top quality produce from approved sources, who are also taking measures to ensure the safety of the produce,' he said.
“Let’s keep working together to ensure we can move forward and get through this difficult period.
“China seems to be getting on top of the pandemic now, and the curve is on the way down, Italy has some positive signs, so in a few months hopefully we will have resumed as close to normal operation.”
Cullum said British fresh produce importers for retail markets won’t suffer too much from the new workplace arrangements, and economic fallout of social distancing measures.
“Everyone has got to eat, I have a small number of staff, we can all work from home, in that sense were are lucky,” he said.