Produce Grower: What logistical challenges has the last year presented?
Ray Wowryk: The largest disruption we experienced this past year has been airfreight. With the reduction of flights from growing regions such as Israel, Spain, and the Netherlands, overall supply during off peak production within North America has reduced supply access. At major border crossings, we have experienced sporadic truck shortages with elevated rates and delays on destination arrivals. Port delays in [Los Angeles] have caused delays of packaging materials, adding additional challenges to the farm and for packaging facilities in all areas of the industry.
PG: Are any of the changes this year permanent or are they likely to go back to the old normal when everything, at least in some ways, moves past the COVID-19 pandemic?
RW: Greater focus on food security will continue as consumer’s interest in local and a desire to know more about how their food is grown. All forms of protective agriculture are in a growth mode and those who can leverage innovation and scale production to remain competitive will be the new normal of the future of agriculture.
PG: Has there been any added or unexpected opportunity for businesses like Nature Fresh based in North America in filling gaps created by the delays in product sent from overseas?
RW: A shift in consumer shopping habits along with fewer shopping trips and home delivery has influenced all products packaged. The ease of filling home delivery orders and consumers buying more value added, fueled by the healthier lifestyle trend, has had a positive growth impact. This has not affected our bulk offerings at all, and we have seen growth in line with all industry reports on tomatoes, cucumbers as well as bell peppers.
PG: For Nature Fresh specifically, how has the organic category grown in the last year or so?
RW: Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen organic sales rise. As families grew accustomed to cooking at home during lockdowns, more consumers were out purchasing fresh products to cook with. We believe organics will continue to surge as more consumers look for healthier options.
PG: What does the market look like over the next year?
RW: We believe, now that at home cooking has made a return, we will see people purchasing more fresh products to cook with and looking for more ways to make homecooked meals, looking for recipes and preparation ideas to go towards a healthier lifestyle.