Nutfruit Magazine

The official voice of the INC

20 July, 2020 Feature Articles

INC Leadership Perspective on COVID-19

INC Leadership Perspective on COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes. As the world grapples with the severe implications of this novel virus for people’s health, it is undisputable that the world economy and businesses are facing struggles as well.

The exact beginning of the pandemic is difficult to pinpoint, but with the virus first spreading in China during January, it was not long before the rest of the world would become affected. By mid-March, a large number of countries throughout the world would be facing rapidly rising infections and hard decisions. Apart from the growingly difficult health decisions to be made by governments, the economy and businesses began to retract. In response to growing infections, a large majority of countries began to impose draconian lockdowns and restrict movement, trade, and business operations. With severe restrictions in place and millions of people limited from leaving their houses, all in efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the global economy slumped.

Like most businesses and industries worldwide, the nut and dried fruit industry has had to face numerous setbacks and challenges to overcome this pandemic. The International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC), as the leading global voice of the industry and with membership representing over 85% of the world’s commercial “farm gate” value of trade in nuts and dried fruits, feels that it is imperative to give the industry an update on how the pandemic has impacted nuts and dried fruits and the future prospects. The leadership of the INC has the unique privilege of being well in-tune and being able to provide an in-depth analysis of the impacts and future outlook. The following sections are excerpts of interviews conducted by the INC with various members of its leadership team.

Lockdown Effects in Asia

Asia was the first region of the world to experience the COVID-19 pandemic and now after months of strict lockdowns, some countries are beginning to relax those restrictions. To represent Asia in the interviews, the INC reached out to Pratap Nair, from Vijayalaxmi Cashew Company in India, and member of the INC Executive Committee, Behrooz Agah, from the Agah Group in Iran and INC Ambassador to Iran, and Chen Qi (Christina), from QiaQia Food Co. LTD. and a member of the INC Board of Trustees.

One common theme from the interviews was the effect of the strict lockdowns in their respective countries. As China was the first country to experience lockdowns, Ms. Qi noted “it was very tough and there was even panic during the first two months.” Regarding India, Mr. Nair mentioned, “in the cashew industry in India, there have been severe consequences due to COVID-19. The factories were all shut during the three months lock down and thereby suppliers and processors were unable to fulfill contracts on time. Workers were without income, and restrictions on weddings festivals and social gatherings (which accounts for a large portion of nuts and dried fruit sales) affected demand considerably.” In Iran, Mr. Agah said, “the lock-downs, in general, have resulted in significant challenges on two segments of the supply chain. It has resulted in a reduction in production/processing capacities but has also disrupted the flow through distribution/sales channels in different markets.”

However, there is still reason to be optimistic, as Mr. Agah said “promotion and increased awareness as to the benefits of consumption of different products in this sector on general health and well-being” is likely to be a focus once COVID-19 resides. Mr. Nair also stated, “I am certain our strong and resilient industry will have the strength to overcome this challenge”. Ms. Qi echoed the same thoughts saying, “because of consumers growing demand for staying healthy, this industry will accelerate in China.”

Perspective in Europe

As the epicenter of the pandemic began to shift from China to Europe in April, the nut and dried fruit industry proved to be resilient. When asked the question, how difficult has COVID-19 been to manage, Board of Trustee member, Jan Vincent Rieckmann, from August Töpfer & Co. (GmbH & Co.) KG in Germany, responded that “after initial unclarity and fear of the unknown, we can say it was retrospectively less difficult to manage than it appeared initially. Most European countries were able to get the COVID pandemic under control within a reasonable amount of time and things started to improve again.”

Roby Danon, from Voicevale Limited in the UK and also a member of the Board of Trustees, answered the same question with, “considering the nightmarish scenario that some of us were envisaging in the beginning, it has been remarkably easy to navigate the difficulties that we have faced. Human nature has a wonderful way of adopting when it absolutely needs to and the pandemic has proved that once again.”

Concerning the future position of the nut and dried fruit industry, both Mr. Rieckmann and Mr. Danon expressed a positive outlook. Mr. Rieckmann stated, “we are quite confident the dried fruit and nut industry will return to a normal state” and Mr. Danon responded, “I do not think any damage will be long lasting.”

Situation in the Americas

After the outbreak began to come under more control across Europe, the center moved to the Americas. For insights into COVID-19 and the nut and dried fruit industry in the Americas, Bill Carriere, from Carriere Family Farms in the US and member of the INC Executive Committee, Jeffrey Sanfilippo, from John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc. in the US and INC Ambassador to the US, and Edmundo Valderrama, President of Chilenut in Chile were interviewed.

One question in the interview asked “How would you rate the response to the pandemic from the nut and dried fruit industry?” Bill Carriere noted, “I think the industry has stepped up to the challenge quite well” and Jeffrey Sanfilippo agreed saying, “I believe the nut and dried fruit industry responded quickly to the pandemic and companies focused on executing best practices to maintain consistent quality food products.” From Chile, Edmundo Valderrama stated, “I am quite proud of the response of our industry.”

It is important to note that there were still challenges to be faced as Mr. Carriere mentioned, “the shift from food service demand to retail/grocery demand has caused some issues. When there were product shifts, the packaging and formulations are not the same for the two uses, so adjustments had to be made”.  Nevertheless, Mr. Sanfilippo and Mr. Valderrama pointed out there are still opportunities for the industry as a result from COVID-19.

Recovery in Oceania

Being as isolated as Australia and New Zealand are has most certainly helped with mitigating the effects of the pandemic. With low infection rates throughout Australia, businesses were a lot quicker to begin the road to recovery. As a representative from Oceania, Declan Dart, from Trumps Pty. Ltd. in Australia, and INC Ambassador to Australia was interviewed.

In the interview, Mr. Dart gave a unique viewpoint on the pandemic, saying, “the greatest difference in the situation and others we have faced is that it is worldwide and there has been an understanding throughout the supply chain including even retailers and consumers.” This demonstrates just how unprecedented COVID-19 is because the entire world is facing the same problem and the positive aspect of this is it allows for greater understanding. Mr. Dart also adds that “certainly in Australia it has been incredible how quickly businesses have responded and put in place risk mitigation processes. To a large extent, it has been business as usual.”

Although as with most situations, there is a positive and a negative. The negative for Australia is also their positive. Being secluded from most of the world has allowed them to avoid a high infection rate, but as Mr. Dart explains, “this remoteness has led to delays in all forms of cargo. International flights have been few, delaying any airfreight shipments, and there has been less frequency of container ships”.

Impact in Africa

Africa being one of the largest continents in size and population makes it difficult to capture the entire effect of COVID, but some countries are beginning to slowly ease lockdowns across the region. Ashok Krishen, from Olam in Singapore, and member of the INC Executive Committee is the representative for Africa as Olam has substantial business there.

Mr. Krishen highlights that it is important to understand the different regions of the world are affected in different waves and that “in Olam, having the breadth and depth of origins in both hemispheres has proved invaluable”.

He also makes the notion that ‘’with child labour and food security seen as increased risks amid the pandemic, particularly in rural farming communities, traceability and transparency are more critical than ever.” Lastly, Mr. Krishen anticipates that “post COVID-19, the consumer behavior and habits are likely to change and we will need to be agile to meet the changed expectations.”
The INC expresses its sincere gratitude for all those who collaborated and gave information for this article.
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