The Coronavirus still has Europe in its grip. Shortly before Christmas, many countries are forced to tighten their lockdown measures even further due to the rising infection numbers. In the fruit and vegetable sector, foodservice operators and their suppliers continue to be hit hardest by the measures - coinciding with the poor economic mood, we are also seeing ever-increasing frustration and depression.
"The impacts are getting closer and closer"
Since Wednesday, non-essential stores in Germany are officially closed again. "We're starting to see the panic around us," notes one industry player from the greater Berlin area. "The impacts are getting closer and closer to everyone. Everyone now knows someone who has fallen ill, and more and more businesses are having to close their doors for good."
Many are still in a pre-Christmas mood, he said, but he expects a "rude awakening" in January. "In the meantime, the restrictions have already been tighter for several weeks, and I don't expect any easing before February. After almost four months on the back burner, I think that's when we'll start to feel the real economic impact."
The virus and countermeasures are eating away at the industry, he said, noting three major factors: "First is the purchase price for traders and processors: the higher cost of harvesting and freight makes commodities more expensive and production cannot be sustained. A second is logistics - if supply levels can't be maintained, operations and supplies will suffer. Then there is the personnel, who are particularly vulnerable to the constraints of the last few months, especially in food service and restaurant supply. Many here are behaving along the lines of 'I'd rather find something new now than wait until the company goes out of business and everyone is looking for a new job'.'"
Situation for growers worsening
The mood is similar at a northern German trading company. Although the majority of sales are through food retailers and losses are therefore less, they see the frustration among their employees. "We have to try to motivate ourselves every day. In the spring, the lockdown was easier for many."
Any understanding towards the situation on the part of the food retail industry also belongs to the past now, he said: "Because of the fear of major economic losses, food retail buyers now seem to be focused only on money again. This makes the situation even worse for producers."
The big buying spree in the run-up to Christmas is also likely to be absent this year: "Consumers lack enthusiasm."
Another lockdown in Switzerland
The Swiss are also facing another lockdown. "The mood is tense and sometimes confusing, as each canton has defined different rules. So far, a second lockdown has been waived, but full hospitals and a lack of nursing staff are now probably causing a turnaround." On Friday, it was decided to further restrict the Swiss population starting tomorrow. The lockdown should end around Jan. 21.
As in Germany and other countries, restaurants there have had to close across the country, with only takeaway food, delivery services, catering for hotel guests and canteens remaining permitted. From an economic point of view, the main talking point is the lack of winter tourism, he said.
"I do not believe in the opening of the hospitality industry in January"
The Austrian fruit and vegetable trade shows the same tendencies as the rest of Europe: "Winners are food retailers and their suppliers, losers are wholesalers, catering suppliers and restaurateurs. Depending on where you are on this spectrum, so is the mood," one market observer says.
"As the pandemic progresses, people are getting more tired, the restrictions are wearing on everyone and there is dissatisfaction with the government's management of the crisis," the report continues. Meanwhile, fears of a third lockdown have also come to fruition. "The hospitality industry is supposed to reopen on Jan. 11 - I don't believe it will."