The coronavirus pandemic will lead to profound changes in the food supply chain, even though it’s not clear at this point what those changes will be, the head of Land O’Lakes said in a Washington Post interview.
In a livestreamed interview, Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, spoke about a range of effects, and potential effects, of the pandemic. As the head of an agricultural cooperative with heavy presences in both retail and foodservice, she is in a position to observe its effects on both the food chain and on farmers.
Ford says the major difficulty Land O’Lakes, and the farmers who make up its membership, faced from the pandemic was the difficulty in shifting from foodservice to retail production. “Many of the manufacturing or processing facilities were built to manufacture products that go into foodservice,” she said. “There’s a difference between manufacturing a 640-pound block of cheese and cheese that you buy at the grocery store...This distortion means that the supply chain can’t immediately react and shift.”
She also pointed out that the pandemic occurred during the time of year when cows produce the most milk. “The production was meant to also support foodservice. So we have too much milk. So what happens then? You don’t just turn the cow off....and the processing can’t shift to meet all of the demand at retail. So that’s why you see the dumping of milk – there’s no home for it.”
Ford noted that demand is beginning to shift again, which will pose another challenge for Land O’Lakes.
“Actually, our foodservice orders at this point, for the month, are almost at 98% to 99% of our original plan, which means that the pipeline is starting to be refilled again against foodservice demand.” However, she wasn’t sure if this was due to restaurants stocking up in anticipation of imminent opening, or to demand for takeout and curbside service.