Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)
Will COVID-19 trend for local produce continue?
While the world is settling into the new normal amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the fresh produce industry is waiting to see whether the trends that unfolded last year would continue.
In the latest European Statistics Handbook on the fresh produce industry, published by Fruit Logistica, senior product manager Madlen Miserius noted that the sector had experienced the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic mainly in terms of the availability of labour and increased home consumption of fresh produce.
“Europe faced a limited availability of workers, [as] most of the fruit and vegetables produced on the continent [is harvested] by seasonal foreign workers. With travel greatly restricted, there was a notable lack of pickers, especially in the first weeks of the pandemic.”
The handbook noted that the travel restrictions that affected the movement of workers provided a stark indication of what the region would be facing after Brexit if immigration policies hindered foreign workers.
Miserius added that retail outlets had seen record sales, as food consumption shifted from restaurants to homes. “But despite analysts predicting there would be abrupt changes in consumer trends and diets, by the turn of the year the most important trends arguably remained the same, namely sustainability, [healthy] eating, and organic produce.” Emanuel Höger, senior vice-president of corporate communication at Messe Berlin, said notable changes had been observed in citrus and ginger sales, which had increased dramatically. “But whether these effects will last remains to be seen.”
For fresh fruit and vegetables, Europe’s trade balance was negative for the year, more so for fruit than vegetables, as the continent imported large volumes of subtropical fruit.
“According to preliminary data, European fruit imports fell 0,5% last year. However, the main importers, Germany, the Netherlands and France, took in slightly larger quantities. Imports of fresh vegetables fell about 5% compared with the previous year, with the main buyers importing smaller quantities,” Höger said.
He added that consumer preference for local produce was another strong trend that emerged during the pandemic, but there was uncertainty about whether this would continue.
“Especially in the first phase of the outbreak, consumers showed a strong preference for national or even regional production. [Trends such as] pick-your-own and buying directly from producers, specialist shops or at weekly markets have increased. Studies have also shown that consumers paid more attention to the origin of fruit and vegetables.” – Lindi Botha