Covid-19: Prioritising Buying Fresh Produce to keep Supply Chains Moving

14th April 2020

Eunomia Director and resource efficiency and supply chain expert, Joe Papineschi, has launched a project with his partner on Instagram to encourage western society to prioritise buying fresh produce while the world battles Covid-19. Calling his project ‘reverse-hoarding’, Joe’s family came up with ‘eight house rules’ designed to take the pressure off the most vulnerable supply chains, and shoppers, and reduce food waste to zero.

Joe said: “By the first weekend of the lockdown I was feeling the urge to bulk-buy non-perishable food, but instead, my partner and I decided on a strategy of ‘reverse-hoarding’, buying fresh produce, and only buying non-perishable goods if they allow us to consume other items ‘in stock’. The instinct to protect yourself and your family in times of uncertainty is natural, but part of being human is the ability to make rational decisions. Modern supply chains mean that the risk of staple foods being unobtainable for more than a short time is low in the west. The empty shelves in supermarkets are easy to explain, it’s quicker for consumers to empty shelves than it is for workers to fill them back up. All that’s happening here is that some households are building up stock while others go without.”

“Our economies are efficient at taking products from wherever they can be cheaply produced to wherever they can be profitably sold, but they often rely on global networks with multiple potential points of failure. In normal times, these networks are adaptable, yet when goods start to find borders harder to cross, and some regions have tougher lockdown measures, some of these networks can begin to break down. So it may well be that in some product categories, we see disruption in supply in the short term. More worrying for fresh produce is the impact of infection outbreaks and social distancing guidelines on labour-dependant activities such as fruit and vegetable harvesting, fresh food processing, warehousing, and delivery logistics. Shelf lives are short, so supply chains must keep moving. With produce markets and small food retailers closing across Europe, we will be relying more on over-stretched supermarket supply chains to keep high volumes of fresh produce moving efficiently.”

Joe suggests that non-perishable staples will be the last category to be disrupted in the west and that the less sophisticated supply chains in developing countries may be more vulnerable as the poorest migrate to the countryside during lockdowns. He also points out that the northern hemisphere growing season is starting so it’s going to be essential that we keep fresh produce supply chains free-flowing otherwise, food waste will be immense. According to a warning by Maximo Torero, chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, protectionism in the form of new tariffs and export bans is the biggest threat to food security resulting from the pandemic.

Joe continued: “By ‘reverse-hoarding’ we challenge rather than feed the sense of panic and individualism, reduce food waste, and comply with the ‘stay at home’ and social distancing rules that will protect many thousands from an early death.”

Follow Joe and his family on Instagram here to find out what they have been making in the kitchen, and what the eight reverse hoarding rules are. A more detailed version of Joe’s comments can be found on LinkedIn here.