5 ways Coronavirus is impacting the food industry
We are all feeling the strain at the moment, but the food industry has it particularly hard
Even the most introverted of introverts have got to the point where they just want to go out and see another human again. We are unable to leave the house – and it's easy not to think outside the house, but if you cast your thoughts a little further, the virus has had an alarming impact elsewhere.
The fact we are not eating at restaurants and we are buying limited supplies means that there are stocks that we would be consuming but that are now going to waste.
How many of us pop into the local coffee shop to grab a brew on the way to work? Or on a long drive, nip into the nearest drive-through for a coffee for the road? Now that we can't do that anymore, these places are not using milk.
Of course, we are all still buying milk, and if your house is anything like mine, you have probably been drinking unprecedented volumes of coffee/tea – so are buying more than ever. But even that's not enough. Dairy farmers in the UK are having to dispose of around 5 million litres of milk every week, and are asking the government for help to stay afloat under severe financial pressure.
This is a big problem for all areas of agriculture. Many producers of vegetables and other produce have switched a lot of their trading to deliveries, so you can place orders with them for what you need and they will deliver them to you. As much as this is making up for some of the shortfall, it's not enough.
There are reports in the USA about one chicken farmer having to destroy 750,000 unhatched eggs every week, as there's no room to accommodate more chickens and there is no demand for them. There are also vegetable farmers who are allowing their harvest to decompose as they can't shift it.
Onions waiting to be buried as there is no demand for them [Image: NY Times]
So, there is little demand for the produce that is available; but even if there was demand, there aren't enough staff to shift it. Millions of people are shielding as they are in the at-risk category and their family members are having to make adjustments to their routines too.
Then there are the people who have been exposed, and are in self isolation. The vast majority of these people are part of the work force and their absence, whilst necessary and absolutely understandable, is having a dramatic impact too.
The UK has launched an employment initiative to recruit a 70,000 strong 'land army' whose job will be to minimise the wasting of fruit and vegetables. Whilst social distancing guidelines will still be adhered to, they will ensure that produce we do need gets to us.
We are shopping differently
You don't need me to highlight the wave of panic buying that has taken place recently – and, while that seems to have calmed somewhat (presumably everyone has reached their maximum capacity for storing toilet roll!), you will still have difficulty finding a packet of dried pasta.
There has also been a massive increase in demand for flour, estimated to be 93% up on the same period last year, as people are trying their hand at baking and supplementing their bread supply.
There has been an upsurge in sales of organic produce in France, which is thought to be a result of people shopping more at local independent stores that only stock those goods. Or it could just be the perception that organic food is healthier and we all want to maintain our wellness!
Booze in the bin
I don't mean to paint us as a population of drinkers but, by and large, we are. Now that the places we normally go for our usual tipple are off limits, the tipples are going un-drunk. That's not set to change at any point in the near future, so we are faced with the prospect of millions of gallons going to waste.
At the beginning of the crisis, one Czech brewery gave free pints to anyone who wanted them as they knew it would go to waste otherwise. Shame they couldn't all have done that!
And the rest
Let's not forget the fact that there are hundreds of small, independent businesses who have no footfall and no way to pay their overheads. Governments are attempting to offer as much help as possible but there is no telling where they will end up with all this is over.
Let's hope we are over the worst of it!