Australia: Coronavirus pandemic drives strong demand for local fruit and vegetables

A this point in time, Australian consumers appear to be rushing to boost their immunity with locally grown vegetables.

For Mr Ipsen, who is based in the West Australian food bowl of Manjimup, this means he is kind of working in one of the few industries enjoying a windfall from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This season has been really good … with the latest impacts with coronavirus and health issues, vegetables are a vitamin pill themselves," he said. "But I think that's widespread too, other people are telling me the same thing.“

Mr Ipsen said after years of volatility the stars had aligned to position the industry to reap the benefits of strong demand, solid prices and high-quality produce.

Fruit and vegetables help prevent illness
Dieticians said they were encouraged by consumer behaviour given the health benefits in preventing illness and disease. Margaret Hays from the Australian Dieticians Association said people underestimated the importance of consuming fresh fruit and vegetables to prevent becoming sick.

"Eating fresh fruit and veg gives us a really big intake of antioxidants, which is really helpful for boosting our immunity," she said. "My advice to people who are trying to prevent coronavirus getting to them and to their families, is to eat as healthy as you can. Get two pieces of fruit a day, lots of vegetables -up to five servings a day- lean meats, fish, chicken, vegetarian sources of proteins -nuts and seeds- and low-fat dairy products."

Supermarket demand grows
Vegetables WA chief executive John Shannon said that while not all primary producers were benefiting, the majority of the state's Midwest and South West were in a good position to capitalise on growing demand.

"We're hearing anecdotally that supermarkets are selling a large amount of fresh produce, as well as the canned produce, because consumers are lining themselves up to improve their immune systems," he told abc.net.au.

Lack of overseas workers
However, the horticulture industry relies on overseas labour, and while availability of workers is steady now, some producers expect it could affect the workforce in coming months.

"We'll probably have threats to the availability of labour, so while it's great to see consumption levels staying high, let's be realistic about where this may lead for the industry into the longer term," Mr Shannon said.


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