The produce industry has consistently demonstrated its resilience and determination throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The United Fresh Produce Association has been at the forefront of the industry’s recovery efforts, focusing on two main priorities: Keep the produce supply chain moving and drive financial relief for those most impacted by this crisis.
These times of unprecedented adversity have forced the produce industry to learn to connect in new ways, which, in some respects, has enabled it to work together more—both better and closely—than ever before. Since the foodservice channel collapsed in mid-March, United Fresh has worked with its members and allied produce associations across the country to develop new methods of collaboration to keep the produce supply chain moving and help those who have been hit the hardest.
In March, United Fresh formed a partnership with the National Grocers Association (NGA) to connect produce distributors who can deliver fresh produce and other items with independent supermarkets on a store-to-door basis. The two associations have worked in tandem to get more fresh, healthy produce items into the hands of consumers.
Driving financial relief efforts for specialty crops, United Fresh collaborated with the Co-Chairs of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA), National Potato Council (NPC), and Western Growers Association (WG). Together, the organizations developed specific proposals supported by the broad fruit and vegetable industry to outline financial needs to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Administration. Most concerning, they estimated some $1 million in losses per week since mid-March across the industry at the time of this report. In response, President Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced some $2.7 billion in financial support targeted to the fruit and vegetable industry, stemming from the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act (CARES).
“Our coalition has worked with USDA and our allied partners to ensure that these programs address the most urgent needs for the industry,” said Tom Stenzel, President and Chief Executive Officer, United Fresh. “Also, we’ll continue our push with Congress to allocate the resources needed to support our industry.”
As of the beginning of May, programs had just started to provide relief, albeit minor, to the industry including USDA’s AMS’s Farmers to Families Food Box purchasing program.
Since 1904, United Fresh has gathered the produce community every year for its annual convention. That tradition will continue this year with a virtual twist.
Putting a new spin on the classic showbiz phrase “the show must go on,” the United Fresh Board of Directors made the decision to pivot not just their own businesses but the United Fresh 2020 Convention and Expo as well, moving the gathering onto the new platform United Fresh LIVE! The free virtual event will connect thousands of customers, suppliers, and colleagues across the industry and the globe to do business.
“United Fresh LIVE! is an innovative solution to an unprecedented challenge. Businesses across the supply chain are clamoring for information and connections,” said Michael Muzyk, President, Baldor Specialty Foods, and Chairman of the United Fresh Board of Directors. “As we’ve learned to adopt online platforms to conduct our daily business, offering this free virtual event broadens our opportunity to deliver real value to thousands of industry members at a time when they need it most.”
Debuting the week of June 15, United Fresh LIVE! features all the traditional United Fresh event opportunities the industry has relied on for over a century—a robust trade show, timely education, and engaging networking experiences—delivered to you in new ways from the comfort and convenience of your own desk.
This unique opportunity to grow a business, grow a team, and connect with customers and suppliers in a virtual environment is one more example of how United Fresh is keeping the industry’s supply chain in motion.
Companies across the supply chain have put a concerted focus on their communities to broaden access to fresh fruits and vegetables, despite their own economic hardships. To aid their efforts, the United Fresh Start Foundation infused the fresh produce industry with $25,000 in grant funds to provide more children and families in need with fresh fruits and vegetables. The association did this while also creating opportunities for foodservice distributors who have faced the loss of most of their markets with the impacts of the restaurant and hospitality industry shutdown.
The grants were an innovative solution made possible by those who donated their pre-paid registration fee for this year’s United Fresh convention.
The 25 grant recipients provided fresh fruits and vegetables to thousands of children and families in need, reaching them in school curbside distribution sites, community centers, and other emergency feeding sites, in communities spanning 18 states and one Canadian province.
“As we’ve learned to adopt online platforms to conduct our daily business, offering this free virtual event broadens our opportunity to deliver real value to thousands of industry members at a time when they need it most.”
Michael Muzyk, President, Baldor Specialty Foods, and Chairman of the United Fresh Board of Directors
Grant recipient Brothers Produce of Dallas, Texas, donated fresh produce to hundreds of families that are part of the local community served by Range Elementary School in Mesquite, Texas.
“We are so glad to be able to provide our underserved community with access to fresh fruits and vegetables and to help ease their burden of bringing food to the table during these difficult times,” said Jose Monreal, Finance/HR Director at Brothers Produce.
To aid children and their families amid school closures, United Fresh began partnering with the School Nutrition Association (SNA) in April to connect produce distributors to school foodservice authorities requesting single-serve, individually wrapped produce as part of their COVID-19 meal distributions.
“Our members want to include fresh fruits and vegetables with their meal distributions and our collaboration with United Fresh assists our members in identifying local distributors that offer pre-packaged fresh produce that meets their needs,” said Patricia Montague, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, SNA.
As the fresh produce industry continues to adapt to extraordinary circumstances, we also will discover that our innovative solutions just may prove to become the new normal.
United Fresh will continue to seek out opportunities to collaborate and innovate with, and on behalf of, the industry as we venture together into the new future of our supply chain. Now, more than ever, being United makes all the difference.