By Clint Thompson
N.C. State Extension Vegetable Production Specialist Chris Gunter believes non-traditional marketing outlets are still viable options. They provide opportunities for small-scale fruit and vegetable farmers to capitalize on amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Outlets like farm-to-customer delivery and farmers markets are still available for those producers. Gunter believes the demand is still high.
“People aren’t as able to get to traditional retail outlets like grocery stores and the normal supply line is backing up. There’s excess produce because demand is down,” Gunter said. “But if you are innovative and you have outlets that are non-traditional or can shift from traditional outlets to new outlets, the demand is high. These non-traditional markets are seeing an increase in demand because people still want that fresh produce. It’s just less available at their traditional retail outlets.”
Many people avoid traveling to retail grocery stores for concern over their own health. If they buy directly from farmers or have the grower deliver directly to their door, it is more convenient. And it is now a more popular option. Individually boxed fruit is a growing alternative for consumers.
“Places like the Produce Box here in Raleigh, (North Carolina) which has a way to aggregate produce from growers all over and make its own custom boxes for those customers, they’re seeing lots and lots of increase in demand,” Gunter said.
This option is not suited for all growers. Because of restaurants and schools closing for fear of spreading the disease, large-scale farmers have been most impacted the most, especially in Florida. Gunter said a large-scale grower would overwhelm these non-traditional outlets with produce. Also, consumers don’t want just one type of fruit or vegetable.
“For the large, wholesale growers, they’re not tapping into that market usually because their volume is so high,” Gunter said. “They’re used to delivering to distribution centers or direct to a retail outlet.
“(Also) customers still want a mix of fruits and vegetables. Having (just) a box full of squash doesn’t really work for the consumer.”
However, traditional outlets will need to be restored. Non-traditional outlets are not sustainable.
“Supply lines are going to have to become re-established in order to supply people once these immediate lockdown precautions are lifted. I think you’ll see people start to go back to traditional retail markets,” Gunter said.