England will go into a second lock down on Thursday and things for the fresh produce sector will be very different than first time round, the duration of the lock down is uncertain, but it will be quickly followed by Brexit on 1st January.
“The last lock we had an amazing transformation in our business, we changed within 24 hours from a Covent Garden Market wholesale fruit and veg company supplying 500 restaurants in London to a home delivery company and within 6 days we were doing 600 deliveries a day,” said Vernon Mascarenhas, Commercial Director at Nature’s Choice.
“We work very closely with farmers so my whole issue was about the supply chain. In March it was a core time for British farmer’s and I needed to keep the farms going, we were offering the same asparagus to our home deliveries as we had to the top London hotels.
“We are now in November and before they announced this new lock down, we had got back to 75-80% of where should have been. What we do best as a company is to promote British farmers and we have gained a lot of new accounts from people who have changed their attitude a bit. When chefs write their menus they need to know what’s available right now and imported supply is more limited and will be exacerbated by Brexit. So they need to look at what is growing in the UK, we know we are not self-sufficient in produce in the UK, but we can go as far as we can with domestic produce."
Vernon says this lockdown will be completely different to last time. Where home deliveries were a success during the first lockdown when supermarkets failed to maintain stock levels in the face of panic buying, this is now the reverse. The supermarket supply chain is really strong and so we're likely to see home delivery services get a lot more imaginative in this second lockdown.
“Takeaways and click and collect will become the norm as high street chains and restaurants learnt from the experience of the first lockdown in March. They're no longer scared to adapt to these new ways of working as they know they can do it well. For example, I know that Sketch will be launching a take away menu but almost all fine dining establishments will be forced to close in their entirety. The same delivery options aren't open to them since so much of the experience is impossible to replicate on a takeaway basis.
“We're also likely to see local neighbourhood restaurants shift into the deli model and become a hub for local communities. They will become places where those working from home can still enjoy the simple pleasures of a morning coffee, or a takeaway lunch and dinner with a restaurant quality feel."
Christmas is still a big uncertainty as Boris Johnson says the second lock down will end on 2nd December while Michael Gove says it will be reviewed on that date.
The biggest problem is going to be Brexit on the 1st of January, with no deal in place as yet and no one having any idea of what might be in place by then. Everyone is talking about phytosanitary and health certificates for the fruit and vegetables as well as other produce, but what people are not talking about is the truck drivers.
“At the moment truck drivers have a special dispensation visa which allows them to enter the country and exempts them from the two week quarantine but on the first of January that will no longer be valid. How do we get produce into the country with no drivers at a time when we import 92% of our fresh produce?”