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All hands on deck for the fresh sector (COVID-19)

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the European economy. The demand for fresh fruit and vegetables has changed. The market for healthy and less perishable fresh fruit and vegetables is doing well. Anything out of the ordinary, however, such as exotic fruit, is seeing a decline in demand. The supply chain also faces several challenges. There are not enough workers to harvest local crops, and international logistics have become inefficient and expensive. People fear shortages and high prices.

These days, most fresh products are sold by supermarkets. Restaurants are closed, and the wholesale sector is ‘dead’. Having access to a supermarket programme or supply chain is thus more important than ever. There is also less demand for typical food service products, including all the exotics. In these difficult times, consumers resort to buying affordable fresh fruit and vegetables with a good shelf life. Healthy, vitamin-rich products and everyday consumables, such as citrus fruit, kiwis, apples and bananas, are in high demand. Expensive and exotic fruit and vegetables have no market anymore.

Importers are struggling with logistics and seeing prices for fresh products go up. They say enough fruit and vegetables are available. But harvesting and transporting them has become challenging. Local food suppliers in Europe have a shortage of agricultural workers. This problem is also present in important supply countries such as South Africa. With decreasing international trade, there are also less refrigerated containers available, and cargo flights are scarce. This has affected the supply chain for flown products, meaning they take longer to get to their destination.

The European Union is trying to secure the food supply. To do this, it is using guidelines for critical agricultural workers and relaxing import requirements for food, for example, by accepting plant health certificates online. Governments are trying to avoid shortages by creating ‘green lanes’ to allow fresh produce to move quickly across EU borders. Still, European markets are unstable and volatile. Each country has responded differently, and nobody knows where this will take the fresh sector in the end. Exporters should follow the news and the measures taken in different European countries, as well as those taken by trade organisations in their own country.

Netherlands: trying to keep business going

Dutch importers of exotic products are suffering due to lower demand.  Meanwhile, those that market regular fruit and vegetables are working hard to keep up the supply under varying logistic circumstances. Logistics within the Netherlands is still functioning. However, both supplying countries and destination countries have closed their borders, and service providers are understaffed. This prolongs the time to destination.

The Dutch government sees the difficulties companies are having. To help out, it is offering businesses tax extensions and financial support. This may also apply to foreign fruit suppliers with an entity in the Netherlands. See the Dutch government measures overview of financial and tax measures or go to the FAQ for entrepreneurs on business.gov.nl. To stay informed on the Dutch fresh sector and national measures, go to government.nl.

United Kingdom: fear of short supply

The United Kingdom is an important market for fresh fruit and vegetables, including ethnic products. Many traditional suppliers, however, are having difficulty filling their demand. Important producing countries like Spain and Italy have the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe. India is closing its borders, and many other supply countries in Africa and Latin America are having logistical problems. Even in local production, the UK depends heavily on foreign employees. Professionals fear shortages of fresh supply.

The British Chamber of Commerce has set up a so-called ‘Coronavirus Hub’. The Coronavirus Hub contains an overview with questions and answers, including government measures. If you want to stay updated on the impact the coronavirus has on the British fresh sector, then the Fresh Produce Journal is a good source.

Germany: looking for agricultural workers

Germany has no shortage of food, but the fresh industry is very concerned about having enough workers. Many agricultural workers have gone back home to Poland and Romania. At the moment, German growers of asparagus and strawberries are suffering the most. For this reason, Germany has relaxed employment rules. More imported fruit and vegetables may be needed though if Germany does not manage to get enough people on the fields.

The Federal Government homepage has detailed information about COVID-19 in Germany.  Find information in your language by searching for the German trade chamber in your country. The news platform Fruchthandel Online offers the latest news in the fresh fruit trade in Germany and abroad.

Spain: huge impact on production and supply

Spain is Europe’s garden for fresh fruit and vegetables. It is also an important transit hub for fresh products from Morocco. The country has been hugely affected by COVID-19 and is in a state of emergency. The shortage of labour and reduced mobility have greatly affected the fresh supply in Spain. This is especially the case for the soft fruit segment, which has entered an important period. These perishable fruits are now in less demand and difficult to export and get to the consumer in time. According to press releases, Spanish strawberry sales have fallen by 50%. The situation in Spain will affect the supply in the whole of Europe.

You can read news about coronavirus measures in English on El País and The Local. Read more specific news about the fresh sector on Freshplaza and FreshFruitPortal.

France: local consumption to support the economy

France has gone into a complete lockdown. This has affected the fresh sector, as open-air markets, schools and restaurants have been forced to shut down. Fresh produce has a 12% market share of open-air markets and a 9% share of the out-of-home market in total sales. Now, about 20% of fresh produce sales in France will need to find buyers elsewhere. From the first week of April, street markets in smaller communities have permission to reopen under certain conditions.

Due to strict measures to fight the coronavirus, the economy is under pressure. French supermarkets are now sourcing from France, reducing the import of foreign fruit and vegetables.

Check gouvernement.fr for official news about France’s coronavirus policies. For more information about the fruit and vegetable sector, see the CIRAD Agricultural Research for Development and FruiTrop Online (partly accessible without a subscription).

Other information sources about COVID-19 and the fresh trade in Europe:

This news article was written for CBI by ICI Business

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