Coronavirus (COVID-19) Supply Chain Resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Supply Chain Resources

Extension of Emergency Declaration by U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (June 17)

The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (USFMCA) has announced an extension of the exemption granted from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations due to the continued COVID-19 health emergency until December 31, 2020. The extension of the exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains. To review the full emergency declarations along with restrictions and limitations, please visit FMCSA.


A Conversation on Food Waste and How Technology Can Help (June 11)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on June 10 to discuss fresh produce retail sales and technologies to reduce food loss and waste.

In a continuation of the food waste conversation from the June 10 virtual town hall general session, PMA Vice President, Technology, Vonnie Estes sat down with a panel of industry members from Ripe.io, Food Waste Free United and Zest Labs, to discuss the largest contributors to food waste and loss, what can be done to combat it, and how COVID-19 has impacted food waste reduction efforts.

Food Waste Contributors

Panelists largely agreed that much of the fresh produce industry’s food waste happens within the supply chain: 15-20% of food loss happens when product is moving from the production/packaging facility to the retailer or foodservice facility.

The reason for so much food waste at the supply chain level has to do with spoilage. Without the proper information or data about a product, fresh fruits and vegetables can often sit in damaging temperatures, be handled in rough environments or take too long to get to their destination. If the product does not meet quality levels when it reaches the retailer or foodservice facility, it will never make it to the consumer.

What’s to be Done?

Solving food loss and waste is a complex issue that involves the entire ecosystem of our industry and will not happen overnight. During the roundtable, panelists called for measurement, transparency and collaboration as key components in reducing food waste. In order to know that your organization is taking the right steps to combat food waste, and to celebrate victories, you need to have transparency within your process and benchmarks to measure against.

The use of data, forecasting and an integrated supply chain approach can help bring down food waste dramatically. Data and forecasting help achieve a more consistent and predictable shelf life for products. Field sensors and data collection technologies, such as blockchain, can help forecast and share information on the shelf life of products as they move through the supply chain towards the end consumer.

COVID-19’s Impact

Before COVID-19, consumer awareness of the fresh produce supply chain was low. The pandemic has brought awareness not only to our industry, but has also highlighted the fragility of some parts of our supply chain. With this rise in awareness, panelists are optimistic that consumers will help further drive change within food loss and waste.

This is part of a series of weekly PMA virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual town hall and virtual roundtable will be held next Wednesday, June 17.


Managing Through the COVID-19 Crisis: Tech Solutions for Industry Challenges (June 4)

In a continuation of the tech innovation theme from the June 3 virtual town hall general session, PMA Vice President, Technology, Vonnie Estes sat down with a group of tech startups providing products and innovations to help with challenges ranging from forecasting and data analytics to labor efficiencies and water irrigation needs.

Participants were surveyed about what the most valuable insight and/or return on a short-term (3-5 years) investment would be:

  • 35% of respondents said it would be big data acquisition and analytics,
  • 22% of poll respondents said it would be sustainable packaging,
  • 17% said it would be extended shelf life quality,
  • 13% said it would be robotics, and
  • 13% said it would be precision agriculture.

When asked whether they have incorporated the use of drones or robots to improve their operation:

  • 45% of respondents stated that they have incorporated neither
  • 23% were looking for more information
  • 18% were utilizing drones
  • 9% were using robots, and
  • 5% were using both.

Poll respondents were also asked what they thought the biggest challenge was when incorporating new technologies into an operation:

  • 29% responded that it was too costly
  • 29% responded that the technologies are not scalable to the practicalities of normal operations, 
  • 29% stated they thought it was other issues, and
  • 12% stated that it was a lack of understanding and exposure to what is available.

In addressing these challenges, startup Bear Robotics has stated that while working to scale their operations as much as possible, managing demand has been a main challenge for them.

Arable and Aerobotics said their biggest challenge is price, but also in asking growers to consider changing the way they have been doing something for years. One participant stated the best way to work around that challenge is to provide training and to make the process of change as easy and intuitive as possible.

Arable Labs focuses on higher-value specialty crops through putting sensors in the field and processing that data back to the client. This data helps growers achieve higher yield and quality with less water, gets better time to field activities and improves labor efficiency, and provides supply visibility through forecasting of yield quality and timing. Data about the plants, weather and soil can also be used internally to better understand what’s driving outcomes for crops. Arable is focusing on providing data on factors that drive in-season outcomes for crops.

Aerobotics, a South African startup, focuses on specialty and gradable crops using drone imagery and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor orchards at scale, tracking each tree’s health and size over time.

Aerobotics uses three engines to provide forecasting data. The map engine digitizes the farm, loading all the groves and metadata about them into the digital space. The tree engine then captures imagery of the trees and provides data on tree counts, health and size. The new fruit engine goes into further specifics for growers, using AI to count and size the fruit within a tree and predict what the size distribution and total tonnage is going to look like within a season.

Bear Flag Robotics is focusing on bringing more robotics to the fields by building autonomous technologies to make farm tractors driverless.

While Bear Flag is seeing a high demand for their services, the autonomous process is still early in the development stage, with regulations around driverless technologies still being passed and decided. There is still a lot of learning and developing to be done before autonomous technologies can move past being a service into a product available for purchase, but Bear Flag plans to offer both services and the product for farmers to put on their tractor.

This is part of a series of weekly PMA virtual events designed to provide up-to-date information and opportunities to connect and discuss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The next virtual town hall and virtual roundtable will be held next Wednesday, June 10.


Managing Through the COVID-19 Crisis: Retail Trends, Data and Planning for the Future (May 28)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on May 27 to discuss produce safety as organizations prepare to return to business during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

PMA Vice President, Membership and Engagement, Eastern U.S., Joe Watson provided an update and explanation of retail sales trends throughout COVID-19. Following the update, a panel of industry experts from Rijk Zwaan, Tanimura & Antle and L&M Companies joined PMA Vice President, Membership and Engagement, Richard Owen in a panel discussion, paired with audience polls, on the changes their companies have had to adapt to, how COVID-19 has affected sales and what they see for the future of produce.

Retail Sales Update
Retail produce sales surged in early March when promotions were still going on and people were panic buying, according to Watson. Towards the end of March and into early April, retailers stopped running promotions and consumers were making fewer impulse buys, leading to a dip in sales. This dip showcased that retailers needed to bring back promotions, and with the return of promotions, the end of April showed another bump in sales.

With the return of promotions and more of the economy reopening, May has seen relatively steady sales. Staple items, such as potatoes, have seen particularly strong sales throughout the pandemic, with leafy greens, such as romaine and iceberg, also showing stable, consistent sales. Luxury and seasonal commodities, such as grapes, saw inconsistent sales with dips in demand coming from consumers having less money to spend.

Reactions to the Data
All three panel participants agreed that what they have been experiencing matches the retail sales data Watson shared with the group. They highlighted that the dip in sales after consumers’ stock-up period felt much more drastic than the numbers showed, and that every grower was affected differently. The panelist from Rijk Zwaan, who is based in Europe, emphasized that while these sales trends reflect on what they are seeing in the U.S., every region across the globe is experiencing different effects, and are in different phases of reopening.

Disruption to Planning
One trend that is common trend across the globe is that all companies are seeing their planning process affected, and have to adapt what they do. The biggest disruptions have come from drastically reduced sales to the foodservice sector. Growers, shippers and processors are having a difficult time predicting what their future sales will look like as the foodservice sector starts to reopen.

This is a particular challenge for growers of commodities that cannot be easily switched from foodservice to retail, such as leafy greens. This is less impactful in Europe, where less produce is sold to foodservice. They have their own disruptions, such as transportation and labor.

Looking to the Future
Companies are responding to these disruptions in different ways. Some, who have the leeway to adjust and adapt, stay the course and continue to grow as they were before. Others are being more conservative in their planning. All of the panel participants agreed it is important to look at the data, and historical trends in terms of consumer purchasing and demand.

COVID-19’s Biggest Lesson
Flexibility was a key lesson that has been learned. Both in terms of planning crops and sales, and in terms of dealing with people, it is important to be flexible, have patience, and not panic. Our industry is about people, making connections and feeding people fresh, high-quality food. At the end of the day, we need to keep our people safe, work together and support each other.


Managing Through the COVID-19 Crisis: Adapting to Policies and Procedures (May 21)

A new self-check preparedness resource was created to help fresh produce growers, shippers, packers and handlers evaluate their organization’s preparedness in mitigating the spread of and preventing COVID-19 in their facilities and workforces.

Early Change

Unsurprisingly, more than 85% of poll participants stated their business created or updated their initial COVID-19 prevention and worker protection checklist within the last month.

Participants shared changes that their organizations planned and enacted early in an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy:

  • extensive cleaning and sanitization of high-trafficked work spaces, with more frequent breaks for cleaning,
  • stockpiling and providing individual cloth masks to workers so as not to take away from the medical industry,
  • providing clear, informative and educational communications and leadership to workers,
  • enacting aggressive social distancing measures in both the field and in the packing house and,
  • creating a community “bubble” for workers by providing whatever supplies they needed so that they did not need to leave and put themselves at risk.

Many organizational leaders exhibited the behaviors they wanted from their employees and demonstrated the need for urgency through education and communication.

Challenges in Safety

When it comes to H2A housing for workers, it is difficult to social distance in dormitory type housing. Additionally, many workers are bused in from housing, or carpool to save money. These transportation challenges have caused issues as well, and many companies have either used more buses, or put fewer people on a bus at a time to transport them.

While many worker safety challenges stem from social distancing practices, one participant has noted an even more concerning challenge that will become more of a challenge as the summer months approach: All organizations have been requiring field workers to use face masks when harvesting, whether in the field, tunnel or shade house/greenhouse.

When harvesting in particularly hot weather, workers have found it increasingly difficult to breathe and function normally with the masks on. Depending on the environment and the product that workers are harvesting, organizations have had to provide some flexibility to workers.

In cases of harvesting in open environments, particularly where social distancing is naturally practiced, such as harvesting from bushes that create natural barriers between people, workers have been able to lower their masks below their noses to aid in breathing and functionality. Before workers leave the field they must raise their face masks back above their noses, and partake in extra sanitization.

Look to the Future

Most participants stated their organizations are moving forward with normal planting and planning procedures. There has been some drop in demand for crops used in foodservice (such as cherry tomatoes), but demand overall has been consistent with what was expected. In terms of testing, as more regular COVID-19 testing becomes available, many companies will likely enact new measures:

  • 48% of poll respondents predict their company will enact regular, proactive testing of employees
  • 35% of respondents predict their company will enact reactive testing of all employees if an individual COVID-19 case is discovered
  • 26% predict their company will enact reactive testing of employees based on contact tracing only, and
  • 17% predict their company will enact broad testing if community or regional cases increase based on testing.

Communication and guidelines from regulatory agencies have been helpful, participants said. One participant went so far as to say surprise visits from a regulatory agency has helped their organization through verifying their protection practices.

Here are additional resources PMA members have found helpful:


U.S. DOT Modernizes Hours of Service Rules (May 18)

On May 14, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the modernization of the Hours of Service Rules. These revised rules are intended to improve safety while increasing flexibility for America’s truckers.

The final rule, published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), covers changes to the hours of service. The four changes of note are:

  1. The break rule requires a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allows the 30-minute break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
  2. The sleeper-berth exception now allows drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  3. The adverse driving conditions exception has extended by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  4. The short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers has increased the drivers’ maximum on duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extended the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. 

For more information, please visit the USDOT website.


Members Helping Members: Data Tools and Forecasting Counsel During Uncertain Times (May 18)

We reached out to technology companies for advice as our industry grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, our contributors encourage the use of digital documentation to illustrate fluctuations in business due to COVID-19. Analysis of this data will help you understand new trends and adapt to meet future demand.

Members Helping Members: Sustainability Counsel During Uncertain Times (May 18)

We reached out to volunteer members of the PMA Sustainability Committee for advice as our industry grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. As business leaders attempt to navigate the challenges of the crisis, it can be difficult to know how to keep sustainability values aligned with the often conflicting demands. Here, our contributors share advice on how to facilitate a creative approach to sustainability in times of uncertainty.


Understanding Consumers to Drive Demand: Health, Finance and Community Support (May 14)

This week’s global/grower-shipper/supply chain conversation followed the Virtual Town Hall general session’s theme of the economics of recovery. PMA Vice President, Insights & Analytics, Gina Jones provided a summary of industry reports on research and findings regarding consumer insights.

Following the update, a panel of industry experts from Limoneira, Coastline Family Farms and Fresh Insights joined PMA Vice President, Supply Chain and Sustainability, Ed Treacy in a Q&A session, paired with audience polls, on how different sectors of the global supply chain are reading and using consumer sentiment data to understand trends and plan for a future that will look very different. Here are the key themes that were discussed.

PMA Research and Findings Regarding Consumer Trends 

PMA research partner Nielsen broke down consumer shopping during COVID-19 into six phases: protective health minded buying, reactive health management, pantry preparation, quarantined living preparation, restricted living and living a new normal. PMA’s Jones said consumers are transitioning from phase five into phase six.

Phase six is broken down into three possible scenarios: rebound, reboot and reinvent. If we have a recovery in the next three months, consumers will be in the rebound phase, where the focus is largely on health concerns, financial constraint, support for the community and appreciation for the essentials.

Health Concerns 

Consumer focus for the next few months will largely drive their consumption and shopping habits. Due to the focus on health concerns, many consumers will shop for nutritional and immunity-boosting foods, such as fresh produce. This shift toward health concerns has also seen a trend toward more packaging. A participant poll during the roundtable found that 91% of respondents feel a preference for packaged produce will continue past the pandemic.

Most participants agreed a continued preference for packaged produce is in the future for safety and branding reasons. They also argued that while there is more packaging is being used during the pandemic, sustainability is a trend that is ingrained in consumers’ minds at this point, and there will be more sustainable packaging options coming in the future. One participant pointed out that because of this sustainability mindset, particularly in Europe, consumers want to see packaging used for a purpose and not used pointlessly.

Financial Constraint

With massive shifts in the economy and businesses taking hits, financial constraint will be a large focus for consumers coming out of COVID-19. Nielsen predicts that consumers will be risk averse for the next year, leaning more into “tried and true” brands that they trust, or discount brands that are a lower financial risk to purchase. As a result, middle-of-the-road brands may have a tough year in merchandising.

One shift retailers had to make during COVID-19 was to limit SKUs. This was largely done as a way to adjust to the lack of transportation and other supply chain challenges. When looking to keep financial constraints in mind in the future, one participant predicted consumers will crave the diversification of product that re-expanding SKUs would bring. While dropping SKUs helped with ease of business during COVID-19, more than half of poll participants agreed that retailers will likely offer an expanded selection of SKUs again.

Community Support

Nielsen predicts the aftershocks of COVID-19 will have consumers shifting to purchase more locally produced items, and participants of the roundtable agreed that local purchasing is here to stay. Participants mentioned that not only is local purchasing here to stay as a consumer trend, but many businesses also shifted to make relationships and partnerships with local growers during COVID-19, and these partnerships will not be quick to disappear.

Another consumer trend here to stay is online shopping. Nielsen states that according to Supermarket News, e-commerce accounted for roughly 2.6% of U.S. food and beverage retail sales in 2019, but the projected growth in online grocery activity would raise that sales percentage to 3.5%, or nearly $38 billion during COVID-19. The online shopping trend was on the rise before COVID-19, and the pandemic simply escalated the trend more quickly than was anticipated. This trend will continue to expand and express itself differently, creating opportunities for retailers and growers alike.

Appreciation for the Essentials 

Poll respondents seemed to agree with Nielsen’s prediction that a consumer appreciation for the essentials is coming when more than half of respondents stated that they predict a downturn in organic sales. Panel participants were not as quick to dismiss the sector. As one panelist pointed out, the organics sector has a very strong and loyal following that will likely continue their purchases. Historically the sector has flexed due to factors such as supply chain and economic issues. While the demand for organics may initially dip now due to purchasing power, participants seemed confident that it will bounce back. One participant noted organics is likely to come back as a strong branding strategy, both due to its affordable luxury appeal and the story it allows the brand to tell.

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


New Website Helps Truckers Understand State-by-State COVID-19 Regulations (May 7)

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) created the Commercial Routing Assistance (CRA) website. This is a web portal for U.S. truckers and commercial drivers to explain the restrictions they may encounter as they travel across the country.

The CRA provides the latest information relevant to commercial organizations and drivers, state transportation officials and regulators, federal transportation officials and regulators, and trade associations who rely upon continuous vehicle movement to meet their mission.


Federal Maritime Commission Adopts Rule on Demurrage and Detention Fees (May 7)

The Federal Maritime Commission issued new guidance  about how it will assess the reasonableness of detention and demurrage regulations and practices of ocean carriers and marine terminal operators (MTOs) under 46 U.S.C. 41102(c). The final rule, “Interpretive Rule on Demurrage and Detention under the Shipping Act,” concerns financial incentives, particularly with respect to cargo availability, empty container return, notice of availability, and government inspections; accessible and user-friendly demurrage and detention policies; and transparent, consistent terminology.

Carriers/terminals should not charge detention, demurrage, per diem when it is not possible for the shipper or trucker to pick up or return a container within the 'free time' such as when;

  • a terminal is shut
  • when no appointments are available
  • terminal or carrier will not take empties
  • container still on ship or in stacks
  • container is held for govt inspection

It will be up to the exporter/importer to enforce, but the FMC's stated opposition to such unfair charges, will go far.

This guidance is a significant, hard-fought victory for all U.S. exporters, importers, freight forwarders, customs brokers, NVOs, and truckers. PMA helped bring the guidance to pass through joining AgTC and National Retail Federation in sending one letter to Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission Michael Khouri, and another letter to Secretary Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Lawrence Kudlow of the U.S. National Economic Council.

This final rule guidance becomes effective upon its publication in the Federal Register.


The Economics of Recovery: Innovation, Investment and Demand (May 7)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on May 6 to discuss the economics of recovery as organizations prepare to return to business during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This week’s global/grower-shipper/supply chain conversation followed the Virtual Town Hall general session’s theme of the economics of recovery. A panel of industry experts from Promar, The Oppenheimer Group (OPPY) and RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness joined PMA Regional Vice President, Membership (Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and New Zealand), Anouk Sijmonsma in a Q&A session, paired with audience polls, on how different sectors of the global supply chain are preparing to return to business and planning for a future that will look very different. Here are the key themes that were discussed.

Opportunity and Investing in Demand

There is perhaps more uncertainty now than ever, as nations and states discuss re-opening and businesses look to seize new opportunities and invest in the future. In response to a poll that was posed to attendees, about 50% of respondents stated that they are looking for guidance on when to reinvest in operations and minimize the risk of losses. One panelist stated that it is less about an exact point in time, and more about following the right due diligence process and looking for significant indicators. When looking for indicators, political and economic stability is key. Maintaining close relationships with customers and banks is especially important, as they are going to give you the best idea of where your demand, and therefore your cash-flow, is coming from.

More than 50% of participants stated they do not know where to look for information on how to estimate demand for products. The agricultural industry is, historically, in a very good position as an industry that is highly regulated and documented. While there are many powerful sources of information that trace demand for our products, it is also important to note and understand that current and historical data are of limited help in creating a forecast to help decide what to plant. With that said, it is also important to highlight many of the good sources of information that can be used right now. Regulation agencies in various countries, such as the FAO in Rome or the USDA in the United States are a prime example of this.

There are also many trade databases and research organization that track consumer and trade data. PMA has been diligently collecting and posting information from these sources, as well as our own consumer sentiment and trade data for members. This information can all be found on PMA’s COVID-19 resources page. One panelist posited that there is almost no excuse for not understanding the data. Understanding the data is an investment, just as long-term market planning is. While economies will take a downturn, they will recover. It is not a question of if, but rather when.

Innovating for the Future

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced some companies to embrace innovation to survive. An overwhelming 64% of participants responded to a poll question stating they are developing contingent plans with steps to reboot their business. A large part of creating contingency plans comes from understanding investment opportunities, emerging markets, and consumer and trade data. There are pockets of value caused by COVID-19 that businesses and entrepreneurs can look for when creating their plans to reboot their organizations.

When asked about what has changed the most and where the opportunity for innovation is in the wake of COVID-19, participants agreed that the digitization of the retail and foodservice sectors of the industry has some of the greatest potential for long-term innovation. Retail organizations have seen more than 20 million households order groceries online for the first time during COVID-19, and there is a huge opportunity to convert these new customers into long-term consumers. One panelist emphasized this point by explaining that the work from home trend is likely here to stay for many organizations, shifting many households away from eating out for a quick breakfast or lunch to eating multiple meals at home.

Another panelist pointed out opportunities for retailers based on a spike in consumer demand. With more produce being purchased more frequently, retailers have the power to seek alternative channels to source their produce. This is a prime opportunity for retailers and growers to introduce second grade produce into the retail market. While second grade produce is equally as nutritious as first grade, it is often sent to processing plants due to strict aesthetic requirements. In a new age of high demand, customers may not care as much about the look of their produce. Consumers are also focusing more on the safety of their produce, and how much it is exposed to certain elements. This provides an opportunity for the packaging sector to look to new, or different, types of packaging, such as top sealed packages.

The response to innovation has not been as ubiquitous in the foodservice industry. While many quick service, and even fast casual restaurants, have seen massive success with delivery and online ordering, most fine-dining restaurants have opted out of the trend, stating that it does not coincide with their premise. As a result, fine dining as a sector has seen an 80% decrease in sales, while quick service has only seen a 40% decline in sales. With a 70% year-over-year increase in delivery sales overall, now is the time to innovate processes, research investment opportunities, and adapt to consumer demand.

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 town hall and virtual roundtable focused on consumer demand and will be held next Wednesday, May 13.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Supply Chain (April 30)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 29 to discuss the most pressing labor challenges and issues impacting them as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week’s global/grower-shipper/supply chain conversation followed the Virtual Town Hall General Session’s theme of workforce and talent management. A panel of industry experts from CoCanMex, West Side Produce and Washington State Tree Fruit Association joined PMA Global Regional Vice President, Central & South America/Mexico Nancy Tucker in a Q&A session, paired with audience polls, on how different sectors of the global supply chain are handling workforce and labor challenges to keep the fresh food supply chain open and to keep workers and consumers safe. Here are the key themes that were discussed.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to keep the fresh food supply chain open. Due to the ever shifting and changing nature of the situation, growers and shippers have been faced with many unique workforce and labor challenges, which have forced them to adapt their processes and guidelines. One panelist noted that the COVID-19 situation is fluid and you need to be able to adapt your organization as it evolves.

One major issue with labor is working with seasonal workers from different areas. One grower in Mexico noted that this year it has been difficult to train new workers in the necessary hygiene and social distancing requirements mandated by the pandemic. Because workers need to be a certain distance apart, additional transportation and lodging have been necessary, driving up labor costs and creating operational challenges. While growers can, and have been, putting guidelines and processes in place in the field and packing houses to help with social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing, they cannot control what happens when workers leave their work in the field and go home for the day. Many workers are family oriented and used to interacting in close spaces. These workers go home to other family members or interact closely with co-workers and friends, who are also working and may have been exposed to the virus.

Organizations have been overcoming these labor and workforce challenges by putting social distancing processes in place on buses, in lodgings, out in the field, and inside packinghouses. Many participants stated that they have ramped up their cleaning and sanitization efforts as well, with hand sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes littered throughout facilities. One panelist stated that their organization has assigned one person to be in charge of cleaning and sanitization to ensure consistency. In addition to cleaning and sanitization, organizations are also providing protective gear such as gloves and masks to employees as those materials become more readily available again.

While physical practices such as social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, and the use of protective equipment are important; all participants stated that education and communication have been key components of their COVID-19 plans. Organizations start by making up-to-date facts and statistics about the virus available to employees. This information helps emphasize the importance of following social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing guidelines. Training and retraining are implemented in their operations. Many regulatory agencies, associations, and even internal organizations themselves are using resources such as videos, flyers, posters and fact sheets on how to stay safe, healthy, and properly sanitize to get rid of the virus. One participant stated that their association, like many others, has created a video on how to properly wash hands and has made it available to the public via their YouTube page. Resources like these are being utilized by growers and shippers globally to make sure that their workforce has the resources necessary to safeguard against the virus.

Overall, participants expressed concerns about their access to labor; the economic impact of extended shutdowns, and most importantly, the health and safety of their employees and consumers.

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 town hall and virtual roundtable focused on the economics of recovery will be held next Wednesday, May 6.


What is the iTrade Marketplace?

A free tool for PMA members to make key connections for their business.

Rene Cardenas, iTradeNetwork's VP, Marketing & Strategic Planning explains the iTradeNetwork platform, being offered free to PMA members for 6 months, and how to search for relationships to buy and/or sell your product. Ryan also covers questions posed about the platform and its applications.


Interview with the Experts: David Poirier, The Poirier Group (April 24)

Ed Treacy, PMA VP, Supply Chain and Sustainability sat down with David Poirier of The Poirier Group to discuss navigating and enhancing your operations through the COVID-19 situation. David goes over ways to seize opportunities.


FDA Provides Temporary Flexibility Regarding Nutrition Labeling of Certain Packaged Food in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 27)

To facilitate the distribution of food during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a guidance document, Guidance for Industry: Temporary Policy Regarding Nutrition Labeling of Certain Packaged Food During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, to provide restaurants and food manufacturers with flexibility regarding nutrition labeling of certain packaged food.

Nutritional labeling has always been optional for fresh produce items that are raw or minimally processed. This does NOT apply when non-Raw Agricultural Commodities are included in the retail selling package, i.e. when a bag of croutons is included in a bagged salad, or if a nutritional claim is made on the package, such as Heart Healthy.

PMA members can see the PMA Nutritional Labeling Guide, which has been updated to reflect the current FDA regulations.


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.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Supply Chain/Transportation (April 22)

Members of the fresh produce and floral supply chain connected in virtual roundtables on April 22 to discuss the most pressing COVID-19 pandemic disruptions directly impacting them and their businesses.

This week’s supply chain/transportation conversation followed the Virtual Town Hall General Session’s theme of e-commerce or, as host Ed Treacy calls it, “e-tailing.” A panel of industry experts joined Treacy in a Q&A session on how different sectors of the supply chain are shifting and adapting to the new demand for e-commerce. Here are the key themes in the supply chain sector that were discussed.

Distributors that largely catered to foodservice, retail and wholesale companies before COVID-19 have had to quickly shift to a business to consumer (B2C) platform to deliver goods directly to the consumer. The biggest changes companies have had to make in this shift have to do with packaging and communicating with consumers.

One participant mentioned that clear communication from internal leaders and clear communication to consumers has saved a lot of confusion for both workers and consumers alike.

While communication has helped overcome challenges, companies have had to adapt quickly and make many changes when it comes to sales unit sizing and, potentially, packaging. The key to many of these changes start with package function and design. The same size, look and packaging materials that are beneficial for foodservice and wholesale companies are less likely to be needed or do not work when delivering directly to consumer. Distributors should consider packaging in smaller quantities, using materials that appeal to consumers from both an aesthetic and sustainability mindset, and using materials that will moderate the limited or absence of control over temperature in the last mile of delivery to and right at the consumers’ doorsteps.

Foodservice and wholesale organizations buy product in bulk, as they serve larger crowds at a higher frequency than individuals and families who are looking to purchase products. Consumers are not looking to purchase three pounds of mixed greens or 40 pounds of chicken for use in their homes. These changes should be made and clearly communicated on both packaging and on the distributors’ website.

When designing packaging, it is important to note that there is less control over the last mile of delivery now, as product at that stage is not being stored in refrigerated trucks or warehouses. Similarly, when thinking about the sustainability of plastic, take into account what kind of recycling options there are in the consumers’ area. Participants in China have solved for this challenge by moving product to smaller refrigerated warehouses directly in areas much closer to consumers so that the product is in non-regulated temperatures for less time, a more localized approach. Other participants are solving for sustainability issues by using plastic that can more easily be recycled in all areas, or catering directly to the recycling needs of the areas they are delivering to.

This roundtable 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 supply chain/transportation sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 29.

PMA member offers a new perspective on supply chain challenges (April 16)

PMA member Michael Fullam, Executive Vice President of ReedTMS Logistics, shares his thoughts with The Produce News on strategies that can help the produce supply chain flex and pivot to meet the changing sources of supply and demand.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Supply Chain/Transportation (April 16)

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

Here are the top themes, insights and challenges about supply chain/transportation:

Norway’s New Normal: Like much of Europe, Norway is several weeks ahead of the United States in the COVID-19 trajectory. The U.S. can learn a lot about where we will be in the next few weeks from where Norway is now, and how they are planning to forge ahead. On April 7 it was announced that the goal of slowing the spread of the virus had been achieved and restrictions are now beginning to be lifted on the country. Businesses are reopening under specific guidelines and will be closely monitored by the Norwegian government.

Throughout the shutdown many measures were put in place to ensure ongoing food production. Fishing and agriculture continued to function, particularly around securing labor and changing the rules for business and industry. Here are the changes that have been seen in the fresh produce and floral industry in Norway:

  • The hotel, restaurant and café (HoReCa) industry has been severely affected, with much of the demand shifting to grocery due to panic buying and Easter shopping. As businesses reopen in the next few weeks, Norway will get an idea of what the “new normal” looks like in terms of consumer.
  • Norway’s fresh produce sector is particularly specialized, and as such they depend on seasonal workers from other countries with the right expertise. Norway is opening its borders for seasonal workers from EEA countries in the agricultural, horticultural and forestry sectors and the food industry. Anybody who comes to Norway is required to undergo quarantine for a 14-day period after arrival.
  • Due to large amounts of uncertainty among fruit, berry and vegetable growers, the Norwegian government has extended a crop damage scheme for agriculture to include crop failure due to labor shortages. This provides compensation to growers if they are not able to produce normal harvest yields in 2020. 

iTrade Marketplace: Creating new trade relationships can be a challenging and manual process during this time. iTradeNetwork observed that on the buy side there is trouble replenishing SKUs and on the supply side there is difficulty getting product out of warehouses and into the marketplace. As a result, iTradeNetwork and PMA created the iTradeMarketplace, which works as an online resource to help establish non-traditional trade connections. As one of PMA’s Members Helping Members initiatives, we announced this week that PMA member iTradeNetwork is providing PMA members with six months of access to the iTradeMarketplace at no cost.

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 supply chain/transportation sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 22.


Members Helping Members: Supply Chain & Transportation Counsel During Uncertain Times (April 14)

PMA asked our supply chain and transportation members to share advice as we grapple with the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our industry. We thank our contributors, and hope that this helps your business as you navigate these uncertain times.


Emergency Exemptions Extended and Expanded for Produce Shippers (April 14)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended the exemption to the Hours of Work Restrictions for essential service drivers, including all food loads, through May 15, 2020.

They have also expanded the relief to cover liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Supply Chain/Transportation (April 9)

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 supply chain/transportation:

Sea: Participating members reported that refrigerated containers are becoming more available as ports in China open back up. There is still some backup at ports, particularly in countries that are still on lockdown. These delays are centered around protective measures: reduced hours, health checks as vessels arrive, and order cancellations once the food is already in the port. This is a big change from the past few weeks where it was the lack of container availability that was severely restricting movement.

Ground: Ground transportation in most countries is reported to be in good shape, with a focus on balancing categories that are seeing different levels of demand. The challenges with ground transportation include curfews, limited work hours, and absenteeism in depots due to truck drivers being out of hours or feeling unsafe to continue work. These challenges are more prevalent in some countries than others.

Air: Air freight costs continue to be three to five times higher than normal rates. This increase in cost is still due to a lack of cargo space in passenger airplanes. Most cargo is transported in cargo space in passenger planes and with the sharp decline in passenger flights globally, there is much less supply of cargo space for the demand, and other staple commodities are given priority.

A strong sentiment among participants was that it is important to map risks, forecast, and create contingency plans so that organizations have flexibility and options as we continue through the uncertainty of this situation. It is more important now than ever that the global fresh produce and supply chain remains flexible, reliable and resilient, and that there are no barriers to people getting food.

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 supply chain/transportation sector of our industry will be held next Wednesday, April 15.


Digest of Guidance to the Industry (April 6)

This is a digest of WHO, US FDA, CDC, DHS, OSHA, US Equal Employment Commission and EPA guidance to the industry on COVID-19 and how to mitigate the spread of this virus. This document has been updated and is current as of April 5, 2020 to include new FDA recommendations on facility cleaning and detection, and the use of face masks by workers.


Fresh Produce and Floral Industry Members Connect on Latest COVID-19 Disruptions: Supply Chain and Transportation Update (April 2)

Members of the fresh produce and floral 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 discussed today about the fresh produce supply chain and transportation.

Air:

Airfreight rates have doubled and tripled during the pandemic.

Sea:

There is an international lack of refrigerated marine containers to export product.

Due to outbreaks of COVID-19 there are port closures in India and sporadic temporary closures elsewhere across the globe.

Ground:

There has been a moderate increase in over the road freight costs globally. Rates are leveling off this week.

In the U.S., hot spots (areas of high demand and high risk of the virus) such as NYC, Washington State and California are seeing large price increases.

Drivers in our industry should be treated like heroes. They are keeping the supply chain stocked and product moving. During this situation we should ensure that all drivers have adequate restroom and refreshment facilities as many rest areas are closed.

As with last week, there is still a need for volunteer transportation services for food banks.

PMA is supporting a call to harmonize weight limit increases from 80,000 pounds to at least 88,000 pounds across all 50 U.S. states. So far we have seen 30 of 50 states increase their weight limits.

Packaging:

Packaging lead times have and will continue to increase, it is recommended that you prepare for these lead times when planning to order more supply.
Erratic demand is causing forecasting challenges throughout the supply chain.

Product demand is coming down from last week’s peak and starting to level of. Staples are in higher demand. The industry is anticipating another spike in demand coming.

Labor:

There is a need for availability of on farm labor to plant and harvest in Europe, Canada and the U.S.

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 supply chain and transportation 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.


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)

Throughout the supply chain, the international trade of food items has been deemed a key priority for the EU and other international governments, particularly in major supply markets. The message in Europe is very clear: It continues to be a priority to keep the flow and trade of food items as free and open as possible.

In the U.S. normal freight capacity is currently tight. There is very little freight moving from the east to the west and south (where fresh produce is currently coming from), affecting freight rates by an increase of about 5 to 20 percent. There are no major delays at the borders between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada or ports of entry within the U.S.; however, there are major delays at the distribution centers.

With the disruption of transportation services affecting the entire industry, foodbanks are seeing an exaggerated need for both short- and long-distance transportation services. If you have extra freight or worker capacity, we urge you to reach out to your local foodbanks who are working to continue to feed those in need.

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


March 25

In the midst of these ever-changing and unprecedented times, I wanted to share the most recent intelligence as it applies to supply chain COVID-19 guidance.

Weight Limits and Hourly Work Restrictions
As of March 24, 28 states have temporarily increased weight limits on trucks. American Trucking Association COVID-19 Update Hub has a summary of weight waivers by state. In case you are looking to maximize truck capacity with the temporary increase in weight limits, I have attached a copy of the Blue Book Temperature and Ethylene Compatibility Guideline and would also like to share the following link to the UC Davis Compatability Chart.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have waived hours of work restrictions for essential service drivers, including all food loads.

Important Resources
In the United States, the government has determined that food and agricultural workers, along with food and agricultural supplies, are part of Critical Infrastructure Industries. Their work and these supplies are vital to security, national economic security, national public health, or safety.

To help you and your employees prove that they are vital and are allowed to travel within the United States, despite other travel bans, PMA has provided you this certificate that your employees can carry with them as they travel on food/ag business. We also offer this certificate about transporting food/ag supplies.

I would like to remind all to read and practice the President's Coronavirus Guidelines for America.

Outside Drivers
Receivers and shippers are encouraged to separate outside drivers to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. Companies choosing to implement this will need to make provisions for outside drivers to facilitate access to refreshments and bathroom facilities. If they are not able to count the load on/off their truck, the terms need to be reflected on the bill of lading.

Border Crossings and Rates
Please verify that your carrier will be willing to cross borders when contracting the freight. We have heard of instances of carriers refusing to cross a border due to their insurance companies' refusal to cover the drivers if they contract COVID-19.

As of March 20, freight rates were up between 5-20% due to tightening equipment and driver supply. Some freight companies are asking for significant increases but are not getting much business. Unloading times at receivers have also increased due to prioritization and increased volume.

FMCSA Annual Safety Blitz
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) performs an annual 2-day safety inspection in June. They have announced that they will be not only be moving forward this year but are planning on moving it to early May. There is great concern that this will severely decrease the number of trucks available and skyrocket rates. Last June, the highest rates all year were during the June safety inspection blitz. PMA is working with the appropriate authorities in DC to have this blitz inspection suspended; however, for the time being, please plan accordingly.

Items of Note
If you are a foodservice distributor with extra transportation capacity, we encourage you to contact retailers as most need drivers and equipment to cover the surge in volume.

Packers should monitor packaging stock requirements and should forecast longer lead times to replenish packaging supplies. Packaging manufacturers are increasing lead times due to a decrease in production as a result of increased sanitation and employee's wellness protocols.

If you are a foodservice distributor with extra transportation capacity, we encourage you to contact retailers as most need drivers and equipment to cover the surge in volume.

Stay safe and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

--Ed Treacy, VP, Supply Chain and Sustainability


March 24

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

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:


March 23 (Updated April 5)

Facing disruptions across the supply chain, our members have told us they need help as markets shift and preferences change in response to this global crisis.

We will continue to post additional resources and updates pertaining to supply chain and transportation issues here.

Over the weekend, our team analyzed recent documents posted by the World Health Organization and U.S. federal agencies (FDA, EPA, DHS and OSHA) that relate to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation. This digest mostly deals with two questions: (1) what happens if an employee at a food processing facility tests positive for COVID-19 and (2) what measures to put in place to limit person-to-person transmission at your food facility: 

To help you and your employees prove that they are vital and are allowed to travel within the United States, despite other travel bans, PMA is providing you with:

These documents are available in Spanish/Estos documentos están disponibles en español:

Here is COVID-19 guidance for shippers, receivers and truck drivers, courtesy of TIA.