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

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