The Coronavirus Impact: Where Does the Food Supply Chain Go From Here?

In the post-outbreak era, there’s a lot to unpack. Every industry has been challenged – especially the global food supply chain. How food moves from farm to table is going to be a much studied subject. Locking America down impacted everything. 

We’re going to need to think about what went wrong when our traditional flow of food was derailed. Everything changed within days, and while some things ultimately worked out, it’s worth taking another look at the situation. 

Optimizing the supply chain 

Well before the virus, the supply chain was being streamlined across most industries. Technology changed how products get from Point A to Point B, improving efficiency, sustainability, and visibility. Improvements in supply chain technology also help companies identify issues at earlier stages, ideally also enabling them to resolve these issues before they become real problems.

However, there’s still a way to go. 

Companies need to use the outbreak as a teachable moment and re-design their supply chain with resilience. Because we’ve seen so much disruption, there need to be clearly defined processes that work, but more importantly, are agile and can be altered when a situation occurs. If 2020 has taught us anything, rigidity isn’t a good look for the supply chain. We’ve seen a plethora of stories about farmers losing their minds because crops are rotting in the fields. Livestock isn’t making it into processing plants, and plenty of other things are screwed up – these are indicative of supply chain issues.

What are some of the areas of improvement? Well, there are quite a few, actually.

It’s not as easy as the fruit just getting on the truck.  

Ensuring that the production, processing, and supply of food runs smoothly has turned into a nightmare. To be fair, this may not have always been a dream, but the usual layers have become much more complex. It’s critical to invest in relationships with supply chain partners because if you’re working together for the long run, there’s skin in the game on both sides. That’s just a base level strategy.

There are plenty of other components that go into the gordian knot that is the supply chain, including

Consumer tastes 

The entirety of food production and supply is contingent on consumer demand, so it’s important to take into account how that evolves. Across the board, we’re seeing people make more health-conscious choices. They want to know where their food came from, and they prefer it fresh. If it’s local, it’s even better. Working in concert with the local economy is essential as we’re seeing how it works on a micro and macro level. 

Labor

The biggest issue facing management is workers—or the lack thereof. From laborers to butchers to workers stocking shelves, human hands are involved every step of the way. Border restrictions are keeping people out, and because farms are understaffed, apples and oranges are dying on the tree. 

Compounding that issue is the difficulty of ensuring proper worker protection. Farms and processing plants will have to set up more definite rules for worker safety and time off if someone gets sick. The whole operation can’t shut down because of poor infrastructure – which had meat processing plants shutting down.

Harvesting and transportation

Without diving too deep into murky political waters, the pre-pandemic supply chain world was a rocky time for international trade. The virus exposed weaknesses in supply chains and challenged them to drive more business locally. 

But what about the goods that simply can’t be sourced locally? After they’re harvested or produced, these are the goods that need to cross state or international lines. (Avocado, anyone?)

Food and safety measures will be heightened. There will be more regulations both locally and on imports. And of course, there are timeframes for freshness that need to be hit. 

Transportation/logistics

Then there’s transportation of the goods to either the warehouse or the store. In either case, this is a part of the supply chain that needs to run smoothly. There are tight deadlines for stocking and these need to be hit. Supermarkets will need to think about end-to-end supply chain management if they weren’t already. Strategic supplier diversification has to become the norm. Otherwise, businesses risk losing the variety and quantity of the products they stock. One of the other things stores are doing is keeping a smaller product selection. This offers less risk and lower cost, but it also means less product diversity. 

What does 2021 look like?

As we view the situation through the lens of history, we’ll see a lot of things we did wrong, but we’ll also have additional perspective on what we did right. We’ll likely see a rise in robots, warehouse technology, and track-and-trace solutions to help businesses identify supply chain bottlenecks. Artificial intelligence will help us identify patterns and help resolve them. 

But, while supply chains are being improved, production and processing facilities, warehouses, and supermarkets still need human hands to help meet unforecasted spikes in demand. If you need workers for the short term or the long term, Adia can help ramp up your workforce.

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