Coronavirus (COVID-19) Foodservice Resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Foodservice Resources

Preparing your Foodservice Business for the Future (July 9)

Members of the foodservice sector connected in virtual roundtables on July 8 to discuss sustaining relationships and preparing business practices for the future. When members were polled surrounding how their organization is doing compared to the last time polled, 64% said they were in the same position and saw no change.

Those in the fresh produce and floral industry who reacted to COVID-19 quickly and pivoted to change have been more successful. The pandemic has forced organizations to examine and solve problems they had experienced prior to the crisis. Going forward, it is imperative for organizations to continue to evolve and improve.

When members were polled surrounding the recent closures and delayed openings in various states, 73% of members said they expected it to happen but did not know when. Fifty-three percent of members also feel they are more prepared now compared to the first shutdown. Organizations should examine factors they can control, such as inventory and staff, when preparing for upcoming shutdowns.

As various regions of the country continue to open, the return of foodservice will depend on the comfort level of the consumer. At-risk patrons should be urged to stay home and quarantine. 

When discussing the current limitations on SKUs and their ability to supply low-turn items from warehouses, the industry may have to look at new and different ways of transporting products to assist in rebuilding businesses. As consumers continue to hold safety of products to a high standard and look for high-quality, immune-boosting foods, it is anticipated the industry will see increasing demand for fresh-cut products as well as processed products.


Coronavirus-related food supply disruptions may be behind us, but meat and produce could still face challenges (July 6)

Although the massive disruptions in the food supply chain that occurred in March and April are not likely to be repeated, the uncertainty of how long, and how severely, meat production will be hampered means that restaurant operators will need to be flexible in terms of what products they use in their restaurants, according to supply-chain experts.

Certain types of produce might also be in short supply, according to PMA CEO Cathy Burns. Read more.


Sustainable Packaging at Foodservice (June 25)

The fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on June 24 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses. Here are the top themes, insights and challenges from the foodservice roundtable.

Guest speakers joined the session to discuss sustainable packaging in foodservice. When members were polled surrounding sustainable packaging for foodservice growers, 57% felt it was important and will return following the pandemic.

The decision to venture into sustainable packaging is often driven by consumers and the desire to be a leader in sustainability. In order to create lasting solutions, educating internal teams and stakeholders, creating cost effective solutions and empowering consumers to be a part of the solution are important to take into consideration.

As more vendors continue to express their interest, the conversations begin with technology solutions and identifying current key issues. When working to become more sustainable, it’s important to first look at infrastructure and making a commitment to being flexible and having the ability to pivot when solutions may not work as planned.

When discussing consumers and sustainable packaging, it’s important to educate your consumers and ensure they feel they are part of the solution. Overall, consumers will sacrifice the aesthetics of packaging if they’re aware it’s reducing their environmental footprint. It’s necessary to evaluate what customers consider a “win” when navigating alternative sustainable solutions and continual training for costumers is essential. In order to reach consumers who aren’t willing to compromise their dining experience for sustainable packaging, it’s important to try to control the packaging cost, and market accordingly.

When looking to the future, it’s anticipated there will be a big push for reusable packaging in the next 1-2 years. It is predicted that the more consumers see solutions, the more they will demand them and it will become standard practice.


Reducing Food Waste at Foodservice (June 11)

The fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on June 10 to discuss food waste. The discussion was led by panelists from Restaurant Associates and Baldor Specialty Foods.

A poll of the call’s participants noted that 42% said they could improve on food waste, 4% said they were doing poorly and needed more resources, while only 21% said that they were doing “very well."

Baldor has seen firsthand that chefs largely aren’t aware of the damages of food waste. One way to look at the problem is to imagine that a quarter of a fridge will make six meals for a family of four. So, you will throw out one third of the food before you make 24 meals. You have the responsibility of not wasting the assets under your control. Do an audit of what you have, and be flexible. This mantra is also true for the chef and supplier relationship as we head toward reopening. 

A representative from Baldor said their company was completely waste-free. Most of the food “waste” from their production company is dehydrated and turned into feed for animals. Other food waste is composted and turned into soil. They also run audits to catch where they are making mistakes, which they admitted do occasionally occur. However, they have systems in place to be a zero-waste organization.

Restaurant Associates run a program called “Waste Not,” which breaks food waste into three categories. The idea behind the program is that waste becomes a game, and employees try to beat their “score” every day by producing less and less waste in each category. Additionally, Restaurant Associates, due to their chef-driven approach, is able to take waste and turn it into other food products, such as turning carrot peels into a cracker. They did admit it is challenging to predict how many people will return to their office once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Baldor has also faced challenges during this time. On March 14, they lost 85% of customers when restaurants in New York City closed. They had four days' worth of inventory on hand, five days of inventory en route, and purchase orders out to farms. They went from donating 10-15 pallets a day to 120—or six tractor trailers' worth a day. However, due to the relationships they had built with donation partners over the years, they were able to donate 100% of their supply.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the food service sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, June 17.


Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Snapshot Overview – Week Ending June 5 (June 8)

We have curated select information from Technomic’s Foodservice Impact Monitor study to share critical insights on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer attitudes and behaviors in the foodservice sector. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members as they engage with consumers during this uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the data weekly.

Bright Spot: The most important factor of any business remains strong – consumer sentiment. Operators continue to try new products as consumers continue to get food away from home and now look forward to dining out in the future more than anything.

Watch Spot: While the good news is that the “light switch” effect of all of foodservice coming back at once did not cause a second disruption to distribution, there is no one formula or path that can be applied to each customer equally. A continuous shift of reopening, adapting, expanding and contracting will continue for the foreseeable future.

Hot Spot: The impact of social unrest hit the supply chain system right as it was gearing back up for reopenings. Time will tell if this second blow, combined with a potential second wave of COVID-19 proves too much for some businesses to bear.

The full report, and additional supplemental reports, are available here for PMA members.


Regulatory Digest on Reopening Foodservice (June 5)

Our experts analyzed regulatory documents from FDA, EPA, CDC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as re-opening guides from the National Restaurant Association and legal opinions from the National Law Review.

Access this 1-pager short form (in English and Spanish), which summarizes recommendations focused on people, gloves, high-contact surfaces, shared objects, and receiving and delivery.

You can also access the long-form digest, which goes into further details on these topics and outlines suggested communication channels to keep open.


Foodservice Themes: Operator Priorities, Menu Changes and Product Innovation (June 4)

The fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on June 3 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses. Here are the top themes, insights and challenges from the foodservice roundtable, which included 46 members.

Research garnered by PMA reflects that consumers are currently driven by convenience in the foodservice space while operators have moved past the cost cutting phase and are now looking for new menu ideas.

One of PMA’s guest speakers expressed that the offsite business has grown by 35%, which has presented unique challenges, specifically in staffing, and has forced his team to adapt quickly. Another speaker predicts that consumer patterns that started during the pandemic including takeout and no contact delivery will be long-term trends. The third PMA panelist echoed these sentiments as he saw the industry migrating toward delivery prior to COVID-19 and believes the pandemic forced the trend to the forefront, therefore requiring restaurants to pivot quickly and reimagine how their business operates.

Operator Priorities
When it came to operators' current priorities, with the uptick in delivery and takeout, the ability to have operators’ brand in consumers’ homes has been powerful and presents an opportunity. Operators should ask themselves ‘what advances to my brand and culture do I need to make to fit at-home dining trends’. These new trends have given some foodservice operators the opportunity to re-imagine menus as it’s necessary to tailor items to the offsite experience.

There has also been a shift in focus to profitability of menu items as well as packaging and merchandise. One panelist mentioned that the accelerated delivery trend has presented challenges in keeping food fresh.

Menu Changes
When speaking about specific menu changes, another panelist explained that many operators are leaving produce off of their menus completely and opting for hot and comfort food. Smaller and more efficient menu items are here to stay as operators take into consideration costs, guest satisfaction and staff.

With the pandemic, there has been an increase in opportunities surrounding "ghost kitchens" – non-destination food-producing facilities that can produce branded foods with no pedestrian footprint. Operators using ghost kitchens have the ability to reduce costs by sharing delivery systems and facilitate meetings between operators and suppliers. Several participants predict that ghost kitchens have the potential to drive development and growth as the overhead cost is low compared to those of a brick and mortar establishment.

As growers are working through product innovation challenges, it presents the opportunity for operators to work directly with problem solvers. When discussing the challenges that the industry currently needs to prioritize, one participant mentioned delivery mediums – specifically keeping foods cold and crisp – as well as how to better serve people in their homes. Finding innovation that takes labor cost and complexity out of the restaurant is important as well. Participants all shared similar sentiments and explained that there needs to be continuous communication between operators and suppliers.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the food service sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, June 10.


Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Snapshot Overview – Week Ending May 29 (June 3)

We have curated select information from Technomic’s Foodservice Impact Monitor study to share critical insights on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer attitudes and behaviors in the foodservice sector. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members as they engage with consumers during this uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the data weekly.

Bright Spot: All states except New Jersey are in some phase of reopening. While the rules vary wildly from state to state, there is no major difference in consumer attitudes or behavior regionally. Some consumers are eating away from home now while the majority remain cautious of dining in right away.

Watch Spot: While many consumers understand that restaurant costs are higher because of new COVID-19 measures and that it's reasonable for them to pay for it, 49% think it's the operator's responsibility to absorb the cost. This indicates any overt communication of a "tax" or price increase linked to COVID is not advisable. Slight price increases or adjusting the plate elements to keep costs down may be a better strategy.

Hot Spot: Consumers see the end of the pandemic in months versus weeks indicating the return to normal volume in all channels will remain a slow ramp up. While some operators have strong sales due to product type or local support, other channels' foodservice remain shut down.

The full report is available here for PMA members.


Interview with Experts: Tony Ferreira, Black Sheep Restaurants (June 2)

Lauren M. Scott, PMA chief marketing officer, sat down with Tony Ferreira, culinary operations at Black Sheep Restaurants, to discuss how Black Sheep Restaurants got on top of the COVID-19 situation, stayed ahead of the curve and are looking to come out the other end of it as a team with their values intact.

Adaptation has always been the key to survival and if you are a small organization this is easier for you, so maximize your strengths. What you lack in resources you can make up for in agility.

If you are a bigger organization and traditionally have many layers of approval to push decisions through, consider even a temporary restructure that allows you to be swift and use your resources to get creative. Download this manual to read more.


Dr. Ben Chapman discusses food safety in the restaurant industry, and how COVID-19 affects best practices.

Well known for his expertise in microbiological food safety, Dr. Ben Chapman’s also excels at understanding and communicating the social and cultural aspects of food safety in food service. Dr. Chapman is a professor and extension specialist at North Carolina State University, and is also a contributing author at “Barf Blog: Safe Food from Farm to Fork.”

Here, Dr. Chapman discusses existing food safety best practices that address food-borne pathogens, and how COVID-19 safety requirements are supplementary to these practices. Specifically, restaurant workers will need to ensure that non-food related high touch surfaces are sanitized both in the kitchen as well as in the front of house. Dr. Chapman also points out that communication will be critical for the food service industry to convey their new safety protocols, and build trust with wary customers.


Members Helping Members: Foodservice Insights During Uncertain Times (June 1)

With the foodservice industry preparing to ramp back up—still faced with the challenges of a post-COVID world—PMA asked our industry leaders across the supply chain to share their candid insights on some critical topics. Now more than ever, the foodservice supply chain must present a united, transparent front to successfully emerge on the other side of this crisis. Here’s what they had to say.

Many thanks to our contributors for their honesty and candor as we continue to navigate these uncertain times together.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (May 28)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on May 27 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

Here are the top themes, insights and challenges about foodservice.

Sixty percent of participants noted they are in a better position than last week. A growing number of consumers have the desire to return to restaurants but feel that they need a buffer period before feeling comfortable enough to dine.

Additional research gathered by PMA shows that consumers are understanding of substitutions that restaurants have had to make due to supply shortages and changes but feel that pricing should be adjusted accordingly.

Consumers have also expressed the desire to eat immunity-boosting food and acknowledge it is important, but fewer purchase and consume those products. Many have turned to comfort foods to make themselves feel better during this stressful time.

One of PMA’s guest speakers expressed his current priority for opening his restaurant’s patio for dining while also ensuring that consumers feel safe. He is setting a limit on the number of guests who can dine per table, spacing each table six feet apart and making dining reservations only.

Another participant said her current priority is working with national foodservice consumers as they reopen to estimate the amount of product they may need. As quarantine continues, it’s anticipated that high-dining establishments will be hit the hardest due to the increased cost of food, rent and overhead.

There were continued shared sentiments regarding the importance of constant communication between foodservice establishments and producers. One participant explained he is most likely to pay more for a product if he has a good relationship with the supplier because he feels confident they’ll support him and his business when he needs it most. The importance of suppliers placing daily calls to clients to anticipate needs, make changes and show support was also stressed.

It was noted that diversifying offerings has been important in helping keep teams and establishments in business. One participant has pivoted to comfort food and tries his best to ensure he creates an experience for his patrons through the packaging they provide and their customized offerings. They have also started to sell new items such as dog treats, merchandise and hand sanitizer made in-house.

Navigating produce excess and shortages has been a big challenge during COVID-19 for suppliers and foodservice establishments alike. All participants recommend buying items in bulk and freezing or canning. It was also recommended to try the “concierge approach” to suppliers and act as a translator of information and knowledge for partners. Growers should also look at gaps in the market and consumer demand to diversify crops.

In another poll, 86% of the May 27 participants have outlined and implemented cleaning and sanitation practices. All participants have disinfecting checks by area, while 86% have implemented cleaning and sanitation checks as well as employee wellness checks.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, June 3.


Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Snapshot Overview – Week Ending May 22 (May 27)

We have curated select information from Technomic’s Foodservice Impact Monitor study to share critical insights on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer attitudes and behaviors in the foodservice sector. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members as they engage with consumers during this uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the data weekly.

Bright Spot: Consumers have experimented with new foods and are willing to repeat purchasing which is a great sign that innovation can thrive in any environment. This, coupled with over half of consumers seeing the importance of immunity-boosting foods, gives a path for produce stability and prominence on menus.

Watch Spot: Consumers’ perception of the importance of social distancing is softening, though consumers expect a lot from restaurants.

Hot Spot: Consumers see the virus under control in the long run, linking the “end” to an approved vaccine.

The full report is available here for PMA members.


Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Snapshot Overview – Week Ending May 15 (May 21)

We have curated select information from Technomic’s Foodservice Impact Monitor study to share critical insights on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer attitudes and behaviors in the foodservice sector. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members as they engage with consumers during this uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the data weekly.

Bright Spot: More states are opening, which presents opportunities to move more volume, though rules vary widely.

Watch Spot: While many are eager to resume activities, consumers believe the pandemic will end later than they anticipated a month ago.

Hot Spot: Consumers care about safety and precautions, yet are less apt to be compliant if required.

The full report and supplemental report are available here for PMA members.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (May 21)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on May 20 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

Here are the top themes, insights and challenges from the foodservice roundtable.

While consumer spending is down 31% from pre-COVID-19, it has risen four out of the last five weeks. Consumer behavior is in flux across the country and operators are having a difficult time predicting how consumers will come back to in-house dining. For example, in Florida, one large chain was surprised to see a significantly higher volume of customers than they were expecting last week, while others are seeing empty tables. It’s a guessing game of anticipation of how customers will behave when restrictions are completely lifted.

Additional research garnered by PMA shows customers want operators to take additional precautions to ensure their safety. Operators have reduced capacity to 50% or even 25%, spaced out tables, enforced masks for employees, and supplied hand sanitizer for employees and guests.

Product shortages are largely affecting meat products, though that may change in the future. To combat this issue, operators are streamlining menus, increasing prices, eliminating items that are scarce or reducing menu offerings. Independent restaurants are much more flexible when it comes to shortages. The independent operator speaking on the call noted they have been able to make real-time changes easily with produce and other items.

The independent operator talked at length about the 80/20 rule, which means 80% of sales come from 20% of your offerings. He advised that all businesses should look to that model. Items requiring a lot of prep, long cook times, and/or high labor which don’t sell that well must be removed from offerings. Whereas, items that require a medium level of prep but sell very well will stay.

Communication remained a high priority this week. In order to stay flexible, the operator of the independent restaurant placed payment terms for all their orders on 60 days at the beginning of the pandemic. Those distributors who are not remaining flexible on payments at the end of the terms, they’re rethinking orders going forward when business resumes. The camaraderie and togetherness has been a strength. The speaker noted that operators and grower-shippers should be working together to communicate their needs to achieve solutions. They noted that the “squeaky wheels get the grease, but don’t be too squeaky to the point it’s obnoxious.” In other words, make sure you communicate your needs but you need to consider your partners’ needs as well.

Making sure that employees are being communicated to on a regular basis is just as important. The independent chain went from having approximately 400 employees before COVID to only 17 now. As states begin to evaluate reopening, they have had management reach out to hourly employees to see if they want to return, and a vast majority do. 


Interview with Experts: Dr. Alan Fyall (May 19)

Lauren Scott, PMA Chief Executive Officer sat down with Dr. Alan Fyall, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor at the University of Central Florida, to discuss the future of travel and hospitality foodservice. With large gatherings still limited and stay-at-home orders still in effect in many geographic regions, travel, tourism, and associated foodservice in the hospitality industry has been greatly impacted. Much remains to be seen; however, the need for innovative thinking and solutions is paramount as the industry prepares for gradual recovery. Download this one-pager for additional information relating to the topic.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (May 14)

This week's conversation began with 42% of participants noting they are in a better position than last week. Consumers are excited to return to restaurants but are concerned about their safety, and therefore may be reluctant to return to in-house dining.

In an effort to make customers feel as safe as possible, one restaurant is taking extra steps, including requiring all employees (front and back of house) to wear gloves and masks as well as receive temperature checks for before shifts. Flatware will remain, though the restaurant will transition to using disposable menus, salt and pepper shakers, and even pens when it’s time to sign the check.

On top of those changes, the restaurant is also reducing tables to 25% of their previous capacity and capping reservations at just six people. Each restaurant is complying with the most stringent policies, the speaker said, and expects a lot of learning along the way.

The menu, though, will remain the same. In fact, the restaurant is making an effort to fulfill in-house service and increased takeout. Prior to COVID-19, this restaurant had a robust takeout service and is now looking to invest in ghost kitchens, kitchen facilities with no dining area for walk-in customers, to enhance that service.

Poll respondents find the future unclear for restaurants due to lack of knowledge on how many people will actually be coming back once social distancing measures are lifted, and that affects every aspect of the supply chain. The predicted timeline for when foodservice channels will return to normal is bleak. Thirty-eight percent of participants said they expect that the industry will not return to normal for six to 12 months, while 19% of today’s participants said it will take more than one year.

Not only are safety measures a concern for consumers, but many people are also in a difficult position financially, which 17% of poll participants said was the biggest barrier to consumers returning.

As discussed in past sessions, communication, beginning at the operator level, is the most important thing. With food being so perishable, it is necessary to have timely conversations to prevent shortages or waste. Before the marketing team of a restaurant pushes lettuce wraps, for example, they need to make sure there is supply to meet the demand.

Seventy-four percent of participants noted they believe the supplier-customer relationship will grow stronger, while zero participants said the relationship would become weaker. Furthermore, 67% of participants noted they would like to see more proactive communication at this time.

However, 52% of participants said the volume of products moving through foodservice channels would be weaker in the future. Conversations about how operators can help grower-shippers and vice versa will be vital to the survival of restaurants.

Don’t forget to check out these new resources:

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, May 20.


Foodservice Operator Assessment (May 14)

This assessment tool was developed by PMA and its volunteer leaders to help businesses facilitate a comprehensive conversation with their partners. The assessment includes sections specific to corporate strategy, business practices, operations, purchasing and personnel and teams, which can be used to help guide your conversations. Download the document and use it as a reference to keep the conversation going with your partners.


Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Snapshot Overview – Week Ending May 8 (May 13)

We are sharing critical insights on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer attitudes and behaviors in the foodservice sector, curated from Technomic's Foodservice Impact Monitor study. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members as they engage with consumers during this uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the data weekly.

Bright Spot: Many consumers are eager to eat out at restaurants and socialize with others, saying they plan to return to restaurants for dine-in service within one to four weeks after the outbreak ends.

Watch Spot: Many operators have implemented or plan to implement extra safety measures as part of their reopening protocol. Vendors should continuously monitor to keep pace with the changes, which will vary by region and format.

Hot Spot: Nearly 79% of operators are concerned about product shortages while only about a third are concerned about produce shortages specifically. Any potential issues with future produce supply or demand will need to be communicated with supply chain partners so they can plan accordingly.

The full report and supplemental report are available here for PMA members.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (May 7)

During our May 6 conversation surrounding foodservice innovation, 51% of participants noted that they were in the same position as last week, while 42% noted they were in a better position. These numbers have shifted from weeks past. Ninety-five percent of participants noted they had made changes to their business.

Participants noted that in order to be innovative, businesses need to know their partners’ weak points. In order to do that, two things need to happen: first, businesses must continue to communicate with all of their partners in the supply chain. They need to know how they can help in order to tailor their business to provide solutions; the second is that leaders must continue to monitor state-by-state reopening plans to provide a variety of solutions to different clients.

As the conversation shifted to a more solutions-oriented discussion, one speaker noted it is important to try to predict what changes will remain when businesses return to normal. They also noted that we’re seeing business models shift; for example, consumers are ordering directly from distributors when operators used to order directly from distributors to sell to consumers.

One way to implement innovation is to see where jobs can be automated. Not only does automation save on cost, but in many instances it can also be more efficient. Leaders should consider creating teams to focus on where innovation can take place in your organization. It is important for those teams to have deadlines where they can show their ideas and talk through them with upper management.

Innovation starts internally. However, leaders need to continue talking to all of their supply chain partners and create a broader conversation about possibilities and feasibility.

Looking ahead, companies will keep monitoring and adapting to these major shifts. For example, as consumers express a renewed interest in drive-in movies, we can consider how to meet people where they are with restaurant to-go style offerings.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, May 13.


Foodservice Consumer Sentiment Snapshot Overview (May 5)

PMA has curated select information from Technomic’s Foodservice Impact Monitor study to share critical insights on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer attitudes and behaviors in the foodservice sector. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members as they engage with consumers during this uncertainty. We will continue to monitor the data weekly.

Bright Spot: Foodservice outlets are being frequented and have leveraged delivery formats, especially fine dining and buffet style outlets. The majority of consumers say their usage of foodservice will remain the same post COVID-19.

Watch Spot: Consumers are optimistic about a return to normal though 40% believe it will take 6 months or more months and operators outside of QSR as generally pessimistic about the long term outlook.

Hot Spot: Consumers' focus on precautions against the virus are top of mind, and as operators begin to open, ensuring consumers feel safe and comfortable will be a priority.

The full report is available for members who are logged in to pma.com


Virtual Townhall Takeaways: Foodservice (April 30)

Fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 29 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

Here are the top themes, insights, and challenges about food service industry.

This week’s town hall focused on workforce, labor and talent. Speakers shared their current experiences and challenges associated with bringing workers and customers back physically. Employers are anticipating difficulties in hiring back employees as some are earning more money through unemployment stipends from the federal government and feel unsafe in their workplace.

Large foodservice establishments are making the safety of their employees a top priority. For example, one large restaurant chain is waiting an additional length of time (up to two weeks) after the government says they can reopen so that they have current COVID-19 safety protocol procedures in place, the establishments are cleaned, and workers have appropriate training related to COVID-19. The company is also hiring additional workers who are solely responsible for cleanliness and risk management related to COVID-19

It can be a challenge for an employer to meet their responsibility to keep workers informed with up-to-date information and training. Given the speed at which government recommendations change, information can be rendered obsolete at an unprecedented rate. One speaker said that in some cases, recommendations they had given employees changed within the same day.

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding how business will return once social distancing measures are lifted. Some are estimating that food service will come back at 50% dining capacity. Forecasting consumer behavior is impossible, and establishments need to make sure customers feel safe too. One speaker noted that a way to make consumers comfortable is by keeping familiar dishes and items on the menu. Employers are still unsure of the best ways to ensure customer and employee safety. Masks are most likely here to stay for at least the near future. How much of a role other preventative measures like temperature checks, including at the beginning and end of shifts, are still unclear.

In looking to the future of restaurants, many establishments are keeping changes that have proven successful in these challenging times. One large chain noted that the farmer’s market they have hosted at their restaurants is likely to continue once business returns to normal. Additionally, menu items that have proved successful during the to-go period will remain on the menu once dining rooms get back to 100%. However, some restaurants are going to attempt to go back to full menus immediately once they return.

Foodservice distributors have a larger role in shaping menus than even the establishments themselves. The “yes, Chef” attitude that was once a staple of the industry is gone because distributors just don’t have the capacity at this time. Farmers are planting right now and most specialty items are not in the ground. Currently, it is the distributors who are dictating what can be on the menu. Specialty requests will not be observed for many months to come.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, May 6.  


Pulse on the Industry – Produce in Foodservice Outlook (April 29)

During our weekly Virtual Town Hall on April 22, we held a discussion and polled the attendees. The majority of respondents were growers and distributors along with operators, business service providers and media.

This cross section of the produce industry provides a snapshot of attitudes towards the foodservice industry. While business outlooks are steady, the foodservice industry is far from stable, as the need for certainty and systemic change is the path for the future. Review the polling results.


Black Sheep Restaurants: COVID-19 Playbook (April 27)

In adversity there is always opportunity, to learn, to grow and to do things differently. Black Sheep Restaurants shares how they are attempting to get on top of the situation, stay ahead of the curve and come out the other end of it as a team with their values intact.

It is important to stay optimistic but also realistic about the future. It is going to be a long time (if ever) that the restaurant landscape looks the way it used to.

Adaptation has always been the key to survival and if you are a small organisation this is easier for you, so maximize your strengths. What you lack in resources you can make up for in agility. If you are bigger and traditionally have many layers of approval to push decisions through, consider even a temporary restructure that allows you to be swift and use your resources to get creative. View the manual to read more.


Members Helping Members: Best Practices for Approaching New Retail Customers (April 24)

The COVID-19 crisis has turned our world upside down, especially for suppliers to the foodservice industry. As a result, we know many distributors, wholesalers and grower-shippers are looking for new channels for their products, especially the retail channel.

We reached out to our PMA retailer members around the world for tips on how to approach new customers, especially during this challenging time.

In the spirit of members helping members, they have offered advice on communication, introducing yourself, building trust and more. At a time when we need connections and assistance in unfamiliar territory, these tips might make a difference for you.


Challenges, Creativity and Innovation in the Foodservice Supply Chain (April 24)

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s apparent that now, more than ever, we must heed advice for having honest and transparent conversations.

With that, we wanted to reshare the outcomes from our 2019 Foodservice thinkTANK. This event allowed participants to think creatively and collaboratively to address industry issues, strengthen relationships and ideate solutions. Read more about the relevant key takeaways that can be leveraged during this time.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (April 23)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 22 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses. Here are the top themes, insights, and challenges about foodservice.

Breaking with the format of the past few weeks, the series of questions and polls presented during this roundtable on how to get to the “other side” was a great way to gauge how PMA members feel about the future of the industry. The answers were insightful and often skewed across the board. Only 35% said that their organization is in a better position than they were last week. From either side, all agreed that candor, communication, and a sense of working together was needed for any version of success.

Menu planning is currently left to educated guesses. The question of whether the ingredients of menu items will be available and at a price that makes sense, will likely lead to simple and fewer menu items once establishments reopen. One participant noted that the limited number of back of house staff will force restaurants to turn to many pre-prepped items until they can bring their staff back up to 100%.

Some segments will rebound sooner than others. Like with the situation in cities and states, there is not a one size fits all answer to what can reopen and recover first. Casinos and hotels in Las Vegas have given specs for next month, while most colleges still don’t have a reopening plan. When asked, 66% of participants noted that the recovery period will be between 6-12 months, with 33% saying 6-9 months and 33% saying 9-12 months.

In another poll, 60% of individuals say that safety and social distancing are the largest barriers to consumers coming back to foodservice once social distancing measures are lifted. One participant noted that California may require diners wear a mask at restaurants when they reopen, which could be a significant hurdle and just one example of the many challenges that are to come.

Seventy-nine percent said their relationships with customers and suppliers will be stronger in the future. This is driven by better communication in what participants’ business needs are and ties to the overall theme of working with one another. Additionally, advocating for your business and suppliers’ businesses will deepen relationships quickly. Many of the participants said that they believe picking up the phone and calling their suppliers every day is necessary.

As a whole, uncertainty surrounding what the future looks like and how to get there remains strong. 47% said they somewhat disagree on what the path to a new normal is and 25% say they do not know whatsoever what the path forward looks like. That said, 47% of participants saying the volume of produce flowing through food service channels in the “new normal” will be worse than before. 79% also said they will need to make some changes to be successful in the future “normal state”.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 29.


Foodservice community pulls together to pull through (April 22)

Comfort, convenience — think family meals, kits, and snacks – facility cleanliness, and physical distancing are what’s positioning foodservice operators who remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic to get by and get through this bleak period, according to market research firm Technomic Inc.

Messages of comfort and community are resonating with consumers. As of early April, dinner remains the top meal part consumers are ordering away from home. For the week beginning March 29, Technomic surveyed consumers on what kinds of food they were ordering out.

It will be important for the produce industry to pay attention to food choices and consumer preferences during this time of physical-distancing restrictions. Download the report to read more on cash concerns for operators and consumers, food trust, continued solidarity and collaboration and what’s next for foodservice.


Consumer Sentiment During the Coronavirus Crisis (April 16)

PMA's consumer sentiment research aims to provide insight into how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer shopping trends for produce. This is directional information that can help guide PMA members with messaging to consumers during this uncertainty. Our research covers the U.S., Brazil, China and the U.K. 


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (April 16)

Seventy-four members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 15 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

Here are the top themes, insights and challenges about foodservice.

This week's roundtable was again a solutions-oriented discussion tailored toward making sure PMA members are aware of the many financial tools available to them, as well as the changes in the industry that may be here to stay and how to best prepare for them.

Some of the changes during the COVID-19 pandemic that are likely here to stay include working from home, an increase in to-go foods at both QSR establishments and white tablecloth restaurants, and expanded menus at home.

A longer-lasting change to the industry would be a high number of acquisitions and consolidation in the distribution sector. Bigger companies are likely to survive, while smaller ones are not. This current environment also hampers R&D across the board, regardless of the sector. There is an important balancing act happening now between the short- and long-term goals of focusing on R&D while remaining in survival mode and just keeping the lights on.

R&D can be in the pipeline for anywhere between 4 to 12 months, so that has completely been derailed at this time. Chefs are focusing on how they can reopen their doors and not on new menu items. However, new menu items are necessary to bring customers back into restaurants once social distancing measures are lifted.

For small to medium businesses to survive, they need to be aware of all the financial tools available to them. As we discussed in previous weeks, it is necessary to keep conversations open across the industry. Changes to IRS provisions in the CARES Act could be helpful to these companies, and it is necessary for businesses to talk to their CPA to see which benefits apply to them.

There are financial programs in place to assist medium to large businesses during this crisis as well. The Main Street Lending Program includes new loans or increases in existing loans and is specifically for companies with 500 or more employees and less than $2.5 million in revenues. The difference in this loan program, besides the business size, is that these loans must be repaid, whereas there is potential for loans under the CARES Act and Payroll Protection Program (for smaller businesses) to be forgiven.

For companies that would like to increase their access to capital, it is necessary to keep in mind that one of the challenges in this type of macroeconomic environment is that investors want to hold on to their money which creates a supply-demand mismatch. Financial institutions, though, are experimenting with how they deal with credit quality downgrades that are tied to COVID-19 in order to help their customers. It is also important to keep in mind that banks are tied to certain restrictions and cannot do whatever they want when approving loans. Conversations between businesses and their CPAs and lenders are the only way to know if they are completely taking advantage of all financial benefits available.

PMA is hearing the concerns of our members regarding the shortcomings of the previous legislation. We are advocating for future legislation and changes to this law during the public comment portion that runs through April 16.

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 22.


Interview with Experts: Andrew Zimmern (April 15)

PMA continues to focus on the unique challenges of the foodservice sector. In order to help address the immediate and long-term needs expressed by townhall participants, PMA’s has convened a foodservice working group and has linked with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, whose goal is to fight for local restaurants and their entire supply chain, all of whom were devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have a special message from one of IRC’s organizing members, Andrew Zimmern just for you.


U.S. COOL Rules Relaxed to Facilitate Using Foodservice Produce at Retail (April 15)

The United States usually requires produce (and other foods) at retail to bear information about the product’s country of origin. Produce destined for foodservice use does not have to bear that information.

USDA has announced “enforcement discretion” on its Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program. On April 13, USDA wrote: “To facilitate the distribution of food to retail establishments from suppliers that have inventory on hand that is labeled for use in restaurants, effective April 20, 2020, and for a period of 60 days, AMS will not take enforcement action against the retail sale of commodities that lack an appropriate country of origin or method of production label, provided that the food does not make any country of origin or method of production claims. Once the 60-day period has ended, COOL designations will once again be required at covered retail establishments.”

USDA noted that this flexibility will allow food to be diverted from restaurants to retail, helping restaurants and their suppliers access additional markets, and making more product available to consumers shopping at retail. For more, see USDA’s announcement.


FDA Issues Best Practices on Safe Food Handling and Employee Health During COVID-19 Pandemic (April 15)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued information and best practices for retail food stores, restaurants, and pick-up and delivery services during the pandemic to protect workers and customers. Many of these are smart food safety practices that employers can consider at any time. This information is being issued in two convenient formats:


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (April 9)

Industry leader Tim York, CEO of Markon was the featured speaker of the conversation and generously shared his perspective and insight on the complex issues.

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 8 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

Here are the top themes, insights and challenges about food service.

This week’s roundtable was a frank, solutions-oriented discussion. Though 89% of today’s participants figured out new ways to get by in the interim, 70% do not see a path towards the new normal.

One of the major problems on all fronts is uncertainty. Farmers are planting, but based on projections they can’t predict. These unknowns stem out to the whole chain, whose path forward is very uncertain. Distributors are particularly feeling the impact as uncertainty lingers from both their suppliers and customers.

It’s time to develop longer-term survival strategies and perhaps rethink some of the decisions made at the start of this pandemic. An example of this shows the harsh impact on restaurants: if Grubhub or Uber Eats takes a 30% commission on a delivery and a restaurant only has a 15% profit margin, the restaurant is “upside down by 15%.”

It is necessary to reshape business models and trim expenses for the long game. In the “Getting by” period, restaurants need to make sure that their quality does not decrease. Delivery is the only method of food service available right now and will be for the foreseeable future. What are potential solutions to providing people with fresh, high-quality food?

This quality standing includes revisiting the produce standards for great-tasting, fresh produce versus chasing shelf life. The industry needs to make sure that packaging delivers the best consumer experience possible.

Previous concerns about plastic packaging have shifted considerably. Consumer trends like these are likely to become culture changes far beyond this season such as innovation like iPad ordering at airports, or an uptick in the use of touchless pay.

The future of fresh produce rests in small businesses remaining open after the crisis. Innovation and trends start at small food service restaurants and trickle down to chains and retail. For example, kale salad at Chick-fil-a or spring mix at McDonald’s took years to reach the menu.

There are hard days ahead, but ingenuity will find a way to make the new normal retain parts of what we as social people crave
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This means working together remains more important than ever, and PMA is committed to offering a platform for the industry to come together to talk through solutions.

Here are some articles that pertain to some of the topics we discussed:

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the food service sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 15. Keep checking PMA.com for the most current industry resources and information about the pandemic.


Consumer Sentiment During the Coronavirus Crisis (April 8)

PMA's consumer sentiment research aims to provide insight into how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting consumer shopping trends for produce. This is directional information that can help guide PMA and its members with their messaging to consumers during this uncertainty. Download the report.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Foodservice (April 2)

Members of the fresh produce supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 1 around the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

Here are the top themes, insights and challenges about foodservice.

One of the largest takeaways from the April 1 roundtable discussion is that there is not a food shortage, nor is one on the horizon.

All businesses have seen a decline. Some projections on the call suggested that recovery may not begin until the third quarter of this year, or four-to-six weeks away at least. Businesses are beginning to adapt and truly create a “new normal” routine to provide as much convenience to their customers as possible.

The UK has been on full lock-down for just over a week. Monetary relief is coming in interest-free loans and government aid in paying up to 80% of people’s pay. Chains and large operators are closing for good or trying to find ways to shift, much like in America. There was positive news that there was no lack of innovation and kindness in this unique time in the UK.

One participant shared their experience in changing the delivery method of food from a plate to a take-out container, which sometimes has implications on what food is offered on the menu and how it is served. A streamlined menu was a useful tool to solve this, and the importance of fresh produce remained.

As a community, PMA spoke about the need for communication and increased transparency throughout the foodservice industry and supply chain. Sharing ideas in the name of collaboration and sharing learnings and successes are goals.

The issue was also brought up related to making sure donated food makes its way into the hands of those who need it most, especially a lack of volunteers. Large corporations typically make donations to food banks in bulk, though without the necessary staff to repack these donations, valuable food goes to waste.

There was talk of the recent approval of the CARES Act, to help payroll costs, employee benefits, rent and other expenses. It has been well-received but many wonder if the bill goes far enough.

The complete toll of the global pandemic remains uncertain, though all in the industry are taking it in stride and adapting to each challenge thrown their way as best as they can.

Here are some articles that pertain to some of the topics we discussed:

This is part of a series of weekly virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual roundtable focused on the foodservice sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 8. Keep checking pma.com for the most current industry resources and information about the pandemic.


FDA Fact Sheet on Safety Distributing Unused Human Food for Animal Food Use During COVID-19 (March 31)

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on in-store dining, restaurants and restaurant suppliers may have surplus food that they cannot use and are looking for ways to repurpose their inventory. The preferred option is to use this food as human food and FDA has provided some regulatory flexibility for that redistribution.

Another option is to send the unused food for use as animal food. Unused restaurant and grocery store food is commonly repurposed as animal food and is a valuable way to reuse food in a way that limits the impact on the environment.

If you can’t redistribute the unused food for human food use, FDA has developed a new Fact Sheet on how to safely distribute it for animal food use during COVID-19.

Shifts in the Supply Chain From Foodservice to Retail

Jill Overdorf of Naturipe Farms, former longtime cochair of PMA’s Foodservice Conference Committee and a volunteer leader with PMA and Center for Growing Talent, talks with The Produce Mom Lori Taylor about shifts in the supply chain from foodservice to retail, strong production and supply, and what’s ahead.


HR 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Information for Employers (March 27)

HR 6201 is a bill introduced by Rep Nita Lowey, D-NY, that responds to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The bill specifically makes provisions for paid sick leave, tax credits, unemployment benefits and other items.

This fact sheet includes summaries and use for the items related to employers.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members React to COVID-19 Situation in PMA Virtual Town Hall (March 26)

The foodservice industry has seen instantaneous disruption, both in terms of business and the supply chain. With the disruption to the industry, foodservice and wholesale organizations have shifted the way they think and do business.

Restaurants all over the U.S. are trying new things, trimming down menus and ramping up their takeout and delivery operations, particularly restaurants who have not offered takeout. Wholesalers are shifting to supply retailers and going directly to consumers to help alleviate the consumer demand for fresh produce and to move product from their facilities.

This situation is will have long-term implications. Businesses that were flourishing just weeks ago may not exist at the end of this, and we may see many new business opportunities arise due to the unique situation. The key is for the industry to stay creative, collaborative, and continue to keep the consumer top of mind.

For PMA members only: Read the full recap and watch the general session video


Behind the science – a conversation with two exposure scientists discussing the implications of recent COVID-19 research (March 24)

It is pretty clear: There is no evidence for foodborne transmission of COVID-19. But what about the worst-case scenario: What if a person who is sick sneezed on a piece of food, and somebody eats it right away?

What measures do we need to implement to ensure that our food supply continues to be the safest in the world?

Answers to these, and other questions, are in this video:


In the past few weeks, we have seen unprecedented disruption to the foodservice industry as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Check back regularly for more foodservice-specific updates and resources.


USDA announces an initiative to deliver 1 million meals per week to a limited number of rural students whose schools have closed because of the virus (March 20)

The department is partnering with PepsiCo, Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global and others to provide boxes with five days’ worth of healthy, shelf-stable, individually packaged foods.

USDA has created a single contact for those who have suggestions, ideas, or want to help feed kids across the country. Email [email protected].

“Feeding children who are affected by school closures is a top priority for President Trump and this Administration. USDA is working with private sector partners to deliver boxes of food to children in rural America who are affected by school closures,” said Secretary Perdue. “Right now, USDA and local providers are utilizing a range of innovative feeding programs to ensure children are practicing social distancing but are still receiving healthy and nutritious food. This whole of America approach to tackling the coronavirus leverages private sector ingenuity with the exact same federal financing as the Summer Food Service Program. USDA has already taken swift action to ensure children are fed in the event of school closures, and we continue to waive restrictions and expand flexibilities across our programs.”


Actionable Ideas for Foodservice Operators During COVID-19 Disruption (March 19)

We have put together this list of ideas to help your restaurants and chains respond to the current situation. While we understand these may not all be relevant or feasible given your unique situation, consumers and regional restrictions, these are just a few of the ways we have seen the industry engage in the current climate.

Cutting back or limiting schedules for F&B. 

  • Eliminating slower services completely or shifting to to-go orders only during that time 
  • Switching to a smaller window of days open, such as Thursday-Sunday  

For F&B, implement an option for curbside pickup or delivery. We’ve seen this used as a vital tool for survival. 

  • Consider an easy-to-execute, cost-effective, simple to-go menu if your current menu doesn’t travel well 
  • Offer family-size orders for couples or 4-6 people  
  • Offer incentives such as complimentary add-ons like $10 gift cards or “rain checks” to be used when they come in for a future reservation 
  • Offer guests a variety of ways to place orders, including through your website, social media, a special email address, and/or by phone 
  • Express gratitude with heartfelt notes—write short messages on restaurant stationery or business cards placed directly on the bag or box for to-go or delivery orders 

Offering gift cards and merchandise online and over the phone. 

  • Your customers are looking for ways to support you! 
  • Add an online gift card option to your website if you don’t already have one (we can offer suggestions for gift card purveyors/operators if needed)  
  • Consider offering incentives to purchase gift cards such as special rates on gift cards purchased in March, like $75 for a $100 gift card to be used at a later date, or creation of a drawing or raffle  
  • If someone calls to purchase a gift card, encourage them to make a reservation for a later date  

Use social media to promote in-house practices to keep customers and staff safe and healthy.

  • Share videos of deep cleans or sanitation 
  • Photos of precautions (utensil rests, sanitation stations, providing hand sanitizing towels)—seeing these things will help to put customers at ease  
  • Detailed and specific steps of your procedures already in place that go above protocol 
  • Reduced and spread out seating to encourage social distancing  

Whatever your message may be, make it stick. 

  • Create static posts on social media and Instagram stories and highlights  
  • Notice what your peers are posting and sharing and try to make your message stand out 
  • Put your face out there—if you aren’t usually comfortable with making your message personal, now is the time to overcome that. Adding a personal element will remind customers you are human and need support. It’s okay to ask for help.