Freshfel Europe, the European Association for Fresh Products, has published an evaluation of the impact of COVID-19 on the fresh fruit and vegetable sector in Europe, which offers an in-depth analysis of the implications of the health crisis for each stage of the supply chain.
The study highlights that the availability of labor in Europe's fruit and vegetable production has affected crops and other tasks at the garden and packing level. In addition, slower logistics, the application of emergency measures, and changes in distribution channels are generating a shortage of some foods, and therefore, higher prices for consumers, as in the case of cucumber, asparagus, and strawberries. Later in summer, this could also affect other species, such as watermelon and melon.
The shortage of supplies and the high prices of certain fresh products, as well as the quarantines established by the authorities, have led consumers to opt for less perishable products and to purchase their products in supermarkets and neighborhood stores, instead of in businesses related to the foodservice sector.
According to Freshfel's document, the EU produces around 80 million tons of fruit and vegetables destined for the fresh produce market. Of this volume, more than 30 million tons are exchanged between the Member States each year. These exports have been hampered by measures to block ports and airports, quarantines, and the decreased availability of labor.
The pandemic has also affected exports to non-European countries, which reach a value of 5,000 million euro, “which are essential for the profitability of the fresh fruit and vegetable sector, and for maintaining the market balance in key products, such as apples, pears, onions, citrus, stone fruits, and kiwi, among other fruits,” the document highlights.
According to Freshfel, the impact of COVID-19 on imports of fresh products from the EU isn't visible yet, especially because the strong period of imports is just about to begin. They believe that some problems related to supply, derived from the emergency measures imposed to prevent the spread of the disease, will start to be noticeable in the coming weeks.
In 2019, the European Union imported nearly 15 million tons of fruits and vegetables worth 16,000 million euro. Therefore, the continuity of the production and marketing operations of non-EU suppliers is key to provide EU consumers with a wide range of fresh produce.