Episode 94: Ashley Nickle, Retail Editor for The Packer Newspaper and Editor in Chief for PMG
Apr 15, 2020, Updated Aug 09, 2022
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In the face of a global pandemic, our produce industry is stronger than ever.
Ashley Nickle is the Retail Editor for The Packer Newspaper and Editor in Chief of the Produce Market Guide. Ashley has been part of the Trade Press for almost four years, and is a respected journalist focused on the produce industry.
As so much in our world is rapidly shifting, it seemed so fitting to bring Ashley in as an expert to speak to the effects of COVID-19 on every aspect of our produce chain – from grower to consumer.
“There has been a reverberation throughout the whole supply chain.” – Lori Taylor (16:30)
In the span of a week, our produce industry experienced an unprecedented shift. Historically, the industry has been a 50/50 split between foodservice and retail. However, as the recent pandemic has ramped up in our country, the entire supply chain experienced a seismic shift.
Restaurants have all but shut down, and establishments without an established carryout/delivery model have been forced to reevaluate and restructure their business model, cancel orders, and some have had to close down completely.
In the midst of such bleak events, Ashley was able to share the silver linings that can be found, and the remarkable resiliency of the produce industry that provides a needed reminder to us all that the world may look a little different right now, but in the end everything is going to be OK.
What effect is COVID-19 having on retailers and how are they responding?
I’m sure you’ve noticed the ways that your local grocery store has shifted in operation over the last few weeks, all in an effort to keep stores stocked, and keep you, as the consumer, safe.
In the final week of March, and the first weeks of April, grocery store sales rose to that of Thanksgiving week. However, unlike Thanksgiving week that is accounted for with extra staffing and early preparation each year, the unforeseen nature of the bump in sales necessitated some quick thinking in the retail industry. As consumers, we see the end result, shelves being stocked or empty. However, every link of the chain was affected – packing sheds, loading docks, growers, the workload changed for everyone overnight.
“One thing I do know is that this industry, the produce industry, we’re unstoppable together. I have never been more proud to work in agriculture than I am right now.” – Lori Taylor (27:53)
And it’s astounding how well the supply chain has weathered the demand. Ashley has spoken to a number of different supplies – potatoes, onions, berries, bananas, and the message they’ve given is important, and reassuring.
In the face of increased demand, the supply is doing great. Rest assured that our produce industry is resilient, prepared, and capable of handling the increased purchases as the world cooks at home.
The power of teamwork.
It has been incredible to witness the innovative partnerships that are being formed because of the current pandemic. Associations such as the United Fresh Produce Association and the National Grocers Association are banding together to help make sure produce isn’t wasted and consumers have access to the food they need.
As restaurants, schools, and other establishments no longer have the need for sizable orders of produce, UFPA and NGA are connecting those companies that wouldn’t traditionally work together. Instead of canceling orders, the distribution is reallocated (i.e. instead of going to a restaurant, a delivery is taken to a local supermarket that has been unable to keep up with the increased demand).
Why you should feel confident purchasing more produce during this time.
People are cooking at home in a way they never have before. This may be one of the most positive aspects of this dire situation. We are returning to a simpler time. Returning to the dinner table as a family whose obligations have been canceled and schedules have been cleared. We are cooking at home, a “task” that is timeless in nature.
As we all try to stay safe and healthy, produce plays such an integral role. Various expert sources have reassured the public that COVID-19 is NOT transmitted through food or food packaging. Now is the time to increase produce consumption to bump up your immune system. It’s good for body, mind, and spirit.
“COVID-19 is not transmitted through food or food packaging… the stores are doing everything they can to maintain proper sanitation at point of sale. Continue to purchase fresh produce, eat it with confidence, and lean on us in the industry if you need inspiration or have any questions.” – Lori Taylor (22:59)
As you may be adjusting to life at home, and perhaps more time spent in the kitchen, we’re here to help you get creative. Our website is full of resources to help you keep things fresh and exciting, with recipes for the whole family. The produce industry is resilient, and will keep up with increased demand in the face of such uncertain times. Now is the time to join together like never before.
As an industry, a nation, and a world, we are unstoppable together!
How to get involved
- Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
- Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.
- Stay up to date with the news on COVID-19 and produce, and other important information at The Packer.
- For a treasure trove of recipes to help you keep cooking at home exciting, visit our website.
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Previous episodes you may enjoy
- Episode 93: All About Regenerative Agriculture with Renée Vassilos, The Nature Conservancy
- Episode 92: The Importance of School Meals with Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director of the Urban School Food Alliance
- Episode 91: The Future of Farming with Dr. Jenna Bell, Vice President of Nutritional Science for Crop One
- Episode 90: Frozen Non-Dairy Indulgence with Julie Podolec, Founder and CMO of Modern Pop
- Episode 89: The Future of AG Technology with Vonnie Estes, Vice President of Marketing at the Produce Marketing Association