COVID-19 changes the way we view food supply

Opportunities presented by pandemic.


Kevin Schulz, National Hog Farmer

Jun 26, 2020


COVID-19 has changed the way people think about the world, and it definitely has changed the way people think about our food supply.


"I think we all know how tight our food supply chain really is," says Joe Weber, Smithfield Foods executive vice president of Growth and Business Development. "It's not just a just-in-time, it's a really-just-in-time supply chain across the entire system. We've got a very tight supply chain."


Weber and Bill Even, National Pork Board chief executive officer, participated in a webinar on Thursday sponsored by SVG Ventures and moderated by John Hartnett, SVG Ventures CEO and founder.


"I think as a society, we've got to think about that going forward and how we adapt," Weber says. "We've got to be prepared for crisis, and I think the good thing coming through this is, we'll all be stronger. But we've got to prepare for any kind of crisis. We're not over COVID by any stretch of the imagination. And we've got to continue to keep people safe and provide food."


Smithfield Foods, like most all meat processors, learned early on the impact that a human disease COVID-19 can have on a company producing animal protein as harvest facilities were shut down or slowed as plant workers were sickened by the disease.


Food safety and worker safety are imperative to a company such as Smithfield, and that shows as all employees at the company's more than 40 U.S. facilities have been provided free, on-demand COVID-19 testing. The company has also implemented processes, protocols and protective measures to ensure that plant workers remain healthy and are able to continue to produce a safe food supply for consumers.


Catering to consumers is the main focus of the National Pork Board, and that was quite evident as COVID-related shelter-in-place orders brought people to the realization that they were on their own as most restaurants were closed, forcing consumers to shop for and prepare their own food at home.


"People really understood what's real. You get back to first principles and when people realized that they were going to be sheltering at home and they needed to feed themselves and their families," NPB's Even says. "The restaurants were closing, but the grocery stores remained open. What you saw both in the U.S. as well as around the world is people immediately trying to find things that were familiar or fresh or things that they knew were going to provide them protein for who knows how long before they would be able to get back to the grocery store, and what would be available."


Even adds that the COVID lesson has maybe gotten people's attention. "Often here in the United States, and in some of the more industrialized countries, we kind of take food for granted. It's always there, it's ever present. It's in the cupboard, it's in refrigerators, in the freezer, it's in the store, it's in the restaurant. Food is omnipresent."


But then, all of a sudden it's maybe not as plentiful as the public is accustomed. "If you think about it from the terms of Maslow's hierarchy, we get down to some really base principles at the bottom of that triangle. And it's about food, clothing, shelter, health of myself and my family. And I think it presents a real opportunity."


Even says the NPB took advantage of that opportunity and "aggressively ramped up" the organization's digital engagement...