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How Will Coronavirus Impact the Food Chain?

How Will Coronavirus Impact the Food Chain?

Make no mistake, there will be ripples felt in the food supply chain as the waves of the current pandemic settle. But what can we expect?

It’s a fact, people have to eat. At the time of this writing, the North American food supply chain is more or less intact. There are no obvious signs of shortage, other than the inexplicable absence of toilet paper and perhaps some low cost food staples such as pasta.

It would seem the call for calm and assurances that there’s plenty of supply has not eased consumer anxiety over the potential of their favourite perishable and non-perishable brands disappearing from the shelves.

In our time of “social distancing”, having the cupboard and fridge filled with our food favourites may become critical. We may have to make critical decisions as to what’s really important. We will be double-thinking  gluten-free, sodium-free, dairy-free, no sugar added, plant-based meat, vegan, non-GMO, or rain forest alliance certified products. Not that they aren’t essential to some dietary needs, but for most of us they’re more like “nice to have”.

The largest food brands have been struggling in recent years to maintain their share position. It’s going to be extremely challenging for large corporate-directed food manufacturers to place more stress on their businesses by quickly filling orders and pushing supply-chains to deliver.

Those who are marginal in the best of times will probably not survive, regardless of size. The next four to six critical weeks will shake out the dust leaving a clean slate for those with the foresight, and the resources to fill the gap.

Beyond having an exceptional logistical strategy, the most critical element in order fulfillment is keeping reliable and skilled labor in place. The connection for all supply-chain elements working effectively is people. Maintaining a healthy supply chain labor force is now critical.

Walmart, Amazon, and a host of other companies, particularly in delivery services, have announced they’re hiring thousands.

Ultimately, forecasting has been a critical tool in keeping the supply-chains intact. COVID-19 has tested even the most sophisticated forecasting technology.

Consumers will quickly tire of all the rice, pasta, beans and canned goods they’ve hoarded. We will eventually miss having our favourite indulgences and begin replenishing.

In adding up the variables and thinking through the classic “Bull Whip” forecasting theory, no one it seems has connected the unprecedented dots that make up the whiplash that’s coming.

With respect to those who supply the food chain, what we can predict with relative certainty is increased agility, transparency, and broad contingency plans.

Data on consumer trends, demands and behaviours must be shared – leveraging purchase power through holding back proprietary data won’t serve the industry. Solutions like innovative sharing hubs will build a stronger food ecosystem for everyone.

What happens if man of our food manufacturers, suppliers, and restaurants close for good? Is this the new age of home cooking with an alternative set of cupboard staples? Or an opportunity for entrepreneurs to step in and take advantage of the landscape. Or both?

One thing is for certain though, people gotta eat. What they pull off the shelves and how it got there will be an interesting matter of history.

Soylent May Get The Green Light

According To The CFIA, Soylent May Get The Green Light Again

The future of food may be more environmentally friendly, but did one company go too far in claiming a stake?

US based Soylent, who sells a meal replacement drink that’s been called both “the future of food” in breathless headlines, has not been sold in Canada since 2017 due to a failure to meet federal food regulations.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it advised Soylent that the company’s drinks did not meet the compositional requirements for meal replacement products, and that its imports would be halted unless regulations were met.

CEO Rob Rhinehart said the company intended to comply with CFIA regulations, even though the company feels “strongly that these requirements do not reflect the current understanding of human nutritional needs.”

The Soylent revolution did make it to Canada

He went on to say that he didn’t know how long it would take for Soylent to adapt to CFIA’s requirements, and that the company couldn’t estimate when its products would eventually be available again to Canadians. The company said in a statement that it was “working hard to resolve the categorization issue.”

Soylent, which offers meal replacement drinks both in bottles and in powder form, started in 2013 when Mr. Rhinehart was working in Silicon Valley.

The product was built around the idea that home cooking was time-consuming for busy people in a work-obsessed culture.

“It turns a full meal into a one-step process. It makes things a lot less complicated. And when you’re busy, it takes eating off your plate,” was posted on Soylent’s website.

Designed to deliver a healthy ratio of carbohydrates, fat and protein, the product is sold less as a drink and more as a lifestyle. The company’s branding and packaging similarly embrace efficiency over aesthetics with minimalist labelling.

Not affiliated, but the leverage from Soylent Green is unmistakeable

Soylent launched with a crowdfunding campaign raising over $700,000 US in 2013, and the brand grew quickly. The company then started selling in Canada in 2015.

Apparently, this wasn’t Soylent’s first run-in with food inspection agencies. In October of 2016, parent company Rosa Foods recalled Soylent’s “food bars” along with an earlier version of its food powder after customers complained about suffering stomach issues.

There’s no doubting that producing a safe, publicly accepted food product that passes regulatory muster has challenges. Soylent is a perfect example of a product with promise, but do they have the tenacity to fight the good fight?

Soylent’s website specified that the company wasn’t named after the food-replacement wafers that infamously turned out to be made of human flesh in the 1973 movie Soylent Green based on Richard Fleischer’s book.

Meanwhile, Back in Canada…

A Toronto-based landscape architect, Steve Euser, said he’d been a regular Soylent drinker since the product was made available in Canada. “I was working very, very long hours, and eating healthy — actually, just eating — was a problem,” Euser says.

With an ailing father and no time to take care of their design business, Euser found Soylent to be a convenient meal supplement to get him through long days.

Ever since Soylent was removed from the Canadian market back in 2017 one question has been on supporters mind north of the border – when the heck is it coming back, eh?

In a statement recently issued by the company in October of 2019, “It’s finally happening, we are coming back.” Their goal being to have product back on the shelves by the first quarter of 2020.