The coronavirus pandemic is leading the food industry and regulators to change policies as they grapple with empty shelves, a glut of fresh produce and milk, and sudden shifts in consumer buying habits.
The problem isn’t a shortage of food and commodities. If anything, food waste is becoming a bigger issue as traditionally big, bulk buyers — like college dorms and restaurant chains — suddenly stop receiving deliveries. As a result, millions of gallons of milk are being dumped, and farmers have no alternative but to turn fresh vegetables into mulch, write Adam Behsudi and Ryan McCrimmon in Politico.
Federal agencies are scrambling to keep up with the altering landscape by easing rules governing trucking, imports, agricultural visas and labeling requirements for restaurants and manufacturers.
“The way a client described it is they’re seeing a tsunami of demand shift from foodservice to food retail,” said Bahige El-Rayes, a partner who co-leads the consumer and retail practice at Kearney, a consulting firm. “If you’re a manufacturer today of food, it’s basically how do you adapt? How do you actually take what you sent to restaurants then sell it now to retail?”
New alliances are being formed as demand from restaurants dry up and consumers look for new ways of delivery. Rewiring the U.S. food network, however, comes with logistical headaches.
Farmers are also scrambling to recalibrate their production. If produce is stuck decaying in fields in the coming months, it could potentially drive up retail prices and cause shortages at grocery stores.
In 2018, Americans spent more on food from full-service and fast-food restaurants — about $678 billion — compared to the roughly $627 billion spent at grocery stores and warehouse clubs, according to USDA data. Spending on food away from home is even higher when counting meals at schools, colleges, sporting events and other entertainment venues.
Now, the National Restaurant Association expects the industry will shed $225 billion over the next few months, along with some 5-7 million jobs.
Read the full report in Politico here
Photo: A pile of zucchini and squash is seen April 1 after it was discarded by a farmer in Florida City, Fla. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images