COVID 19 Changes How People Buy Food

20 June 2020

The COVID-19 world health crisis has affected almost every part of daily life -- including the way we get food.

The food industry faced massive difficulties from shutdowns ordered to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Restaurants and markets closed or sharply limited their service.

The spread of the virus caused slowdowns in meat and produce processing. Food supply systems changed suddenly around the world. All people involved in all parts of those systems had to adjust to continue operating.

Take, for example, the United States fishing industry.

Fisherman Eric Pray lives in the northeastern state of Maine. He traps lobsters. Pray used to ship his seafood to markets and restaurants all over the country. That changed when the coronavirus began to spread.

Pray now sells closer to home and from home. He keeps the lobsters he traps in a homemade tank in his garage and sells them directly to consumers.

Pray is one of hundreds in the fishing industry, along with farmers and other food producers, who have changed their delivery model during the virus outbreak.

A food movement called farm-to-table has been growing for years in the U.S. Farm-to-table means the food producer grows, raises or makes the food and then sells it to the local community.

With the pandemic, the movement expanded naturally as food manufacturing and transport changed. The changes were difficult for most food producers but also brought new customers.

Fisherman Pray says that when restaurants reopen, he will "probably keep doing home delivery" because now he has a good base of buyers. We call this a "customer base."

In this Friday, May 29, 2020 photo, Cora Pray, left, and her sister, Pearl Pray, hold homemade signs advertising their father's new business of selling his lobsters from his home garage in Portland, Maine.
In this Friday, May 29, 2020 photo, Cora Pray, left, and her sister, Pearl Pray, hold homemade signs advertising their father's new business of selling his lobsters from his home garage in Portland, Maine.

Templeton Farm in Vermont is a small, family-owned producer of cow meat, or beef. It has been in business since 1810. The company lost its two biggest customers when two restaurants shut down because of the virus.

At the same time, Templeton Farm began to get calls from new customers looking for locally raised beef, said farmer Bruce Chapell.

"Since then, our beef sales have been off the charts," he said.

However, not all America's food producers have had a good experience.

Jayson Lusk is head of the department of agricultural economics at Purdue University in Indiana. He said that in late April and early May, U.S. beef and pig meat, or pork, processing ability was down 40 percent from last year. The factories are now mostly producing again, Lusk added. But they are processing less beef and pork -- about 10 to 15 percent below last year.

Some areas of food production, like sales of live lobsters, have also suffered losses, mainly because of restaurant closures.

Eric Pray, the Maine fisherman, has been in the seafood business for 30 years. He said he has been able to keep his business going so far. But he said it becomes more difficult the longer restaurants and processing plants remain closed or limited.

LaPorchia Collins is an economics professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. She says there are two main difficulties facing food suppliers. One is moving food along the supply system while protecting the health of workers. The other, she said, is reshaping food demand in a way to avoid future slowdowns and stoppages.

Before the pandemic hit, Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange, Indiana, had been selling most of its pig and chicken meat to high-quality restaurants and meat shops. Then, practically overnight, restaurants and shops shut down. The farm's business was greatly reduced.

The farm has been able to change processing to produce smaller amounts for individual customers. But it has not been easy on the business.

Greg Gunthorp is an owner. This is what he told the Associated Press: "It's been way, way too much work -- way more changes. We made more changes in the first two weeks [of the shutdown] than we had planned to make in two years."

PrairiErth Farm is in Atlanta, Illinois. This season, the company has doubled its direct-to-consumer produce program. About 322 members in the program pay for produce delivery throughout the season.

Katie Bishop is one of PrairiErth's farmers. She said the company has listed about 75 people who want to join the program. But, she said, it is unclear if this new model will be possible when the health crisis ends.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Lisa Rathke and Patrick Whittle reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

adjust – v. to change (something) in a minor way so that it works better

consumer – n. a person who buys goods and services

delivery – n. the transfer of something from one place or person to another

customer – n. someone who buys goods or services from a business

off the charts – phrase : quite a lot more or better than is usual or was expected