This week’s take on food production focuses on aid during the coronavirus pandemic: both giving and receiving. In recent weeks, the conversation about who’s helping whom has proven a hot topic, from the $3 trillion federal bailout to high-end chefs converting their restaurants to food banks.

With unemployment rampant, food groups from across the spectrum are advocating for themselves and outlining their needs. In addition, the topic of frontline workers and employee relations continues to top the list of discussions. We look at a few different perspectives along the supply chain below.

“The people we serve and the charitable food system in the United States are facing a ‘perfect storm,’ with surges in demand, declines in food donations and volunteers, and disruptions to normal operating procedures, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO, Feeding America

Sometimes You Lend a Hand …

As millions of Americans file for unemployment — and millions more face uncertain futures — many have stepped up to help. The government, food companies and chefs have all provided aid in what ways they can.

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) outlined how federal stimulus packages help farmers, food producers and families facing hunger.
  • PepsiCo pledged to spend $45 million in COVID-19 aid globally.
  • Northeastern grocery chain Stop & Shop committed to send 5,000 meals daily to hospitals in New York City and Boston.
  • After converting the high-end restaurant to a soup kitchen of sorts, Eleven Madison Park chef Daniel Humm told Food & Wine, “If every restaurant in NYC would get $500 a day to produce 100 meals, we would end hunger.”
  • The Washington Post detailed Guy Fieri’s fundraising efforts for corporate donations to the National Restaurant Association Education Fund’s employee relief fund. Judging by the “supporters” list, there’s some love for workers at diners, drive-ins and dives.

… Sometimes You Need a Hand

Relief cannot come soon enough for key segments of the food industry. Restaurants are scrutinizing the $350 billion in available loans for small businesses, food banks are struggling to serve communities as demand spikes, and agriculture needs financial aid to keep the domestic food supply going.

  • In The Washington Post, Naomi Pomeroy, founder of the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition described the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the Small Business Administration: “It’s just kind of a nightmare the way it’s set up.”
  • Restaurant relief funds for workers cannot keep up with demand. Teofilo Reyes, Director of Programs and Research for nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center United, lamented, “We wish we could support everybody but the need is pretty overwhelming.”
  • Facing soaring demand and plummeting supply, Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot warned that the charity faces a $1.4 billion shortfall.
  • Agriculture groups, including the National Farmers Union, are elevating calls to the USDA for quick and efficient disbursement of relief funds — which include $9.5 billion for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers and $14 billion to replenish Commodity Credit Corporation funds.
  • A coalition of 31 agriculture groups appealed to the Small Business Association, asking farms and related businesses to qualify for loans under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program: “Many agricultural producers need access to this critical source of financing to help preserve their businesses and avoid further disruptions to our economy and food systems.”
  • Activist group Union of Concerned Scientists emphasized that farms are highly intertwined with the health of local businesses.

Hard Times on the Front Line

Frontline workers on farms, food processing and channels continue to draw attention in the wake of the coronavirus. Most discussions showcase stories about their employment status, health concerns and role as essential services during the pandemic.

“We’re always worried about contamination. And now, it’s not only product contamination but employee contamination.”​

Howard Dorman, Mazars USA (Food Dive)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Even Supply Chains Can’t Make Ends Meet

Tamara Lush of The Associated Press highlighted a growing problem for produce farmers: their usual buyers are gone. With restaurants, theme parks and schools closed, “thousands of acres of fruits and vegetables grown in Florida are being plowed over or left to rot.” Unless new channels spring up, leafy greens from Arizona and California face a similar fate.

Retail Quick Hits

Morning brew reported that, as of the beginning of April, downloads of Walmart’s grocery delivery app outpaced Amazon’s by 20%.

In a YouTube video posted April 8, Partnership for a Healthier America’s Nancy Roman interviewed Leslie Sarasin, the CEO of FMI: the Food Industry Association.

Staying Ahead by Planning Ahead

A March 26 Texas Monthly article featured San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B’s efforts to stay ahead of the coronavirus curve. The 300-unit chain, widely considered an industry trendsetter, began making considerations in early January for its supply chain, workers, shoppers, store hours and more — well ahead of many of its counterparts across the country.

Know Your Sustainable Oils

Triple Pundit dove deep into the sustainability stories of palm and coconut oils. Human rights and environmental groups have long criticized palm oil production practices, ultimately affecting shopping choices on grocery shelves. While palm oil remains the world’s most widely used oil, food companies and consumers have increasingly chosen coconut oil as an alternative. Author Nithin Coca outlined that there are more considerations beyond deforestation and workers rights such as efficiency and the diversity of products each crop can produce.