Coffee consumption worldwide is set to fall this year for the first time since 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stay-at-home orders have cratered sales at coffee shops, as 95% of the out-of-home market shuttered, according to industry researcher Marex Spectron. “It will be a slow and staggered comeback for us as a lot of the offices in London are not coming back on until after summer, and some may even open only next year,” said Robert Robinson, co-founder of London coffee chain Notes. In Brazil, low demand at Suplicy Cafes Especiais, one of the country’s largest chains, forced the company to reschedule payments to farmers for shipments already delivered. International coffee giants Dunkin’ and Starbucks have struggled to mitigate the loss of commuter traffic with increased drive-thru and pickup sales, but low demand worldwide is already taking a toll on coffee’s market value. The value of arabica beans is predicted to drop by roughly 10% in the second half of 2020 to about 90 cents a pound, according to Citigroup Inc.
The Brooklyn social services provider Camba Inc. served more than 18,000 people last month, almost five times as many as in February. It’s a small example of how the pandemic has caused demand at food banks to skyrocket due to millions of Americans being out of work. According to hunger-relief organization Feeding America, which operates 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs across the country, an additional 17 million people will become unable to meet their family’s food needs this year. To meet rising demand, relief organizations across the country are testing new distribution strategies, employing temporary labor, and scrambling to find larger storage facilities.
According to a June survey by Feeding America, over 82% of U.S. food banks are helping more people now than last year, at an average increase of 50%. Food banks rely on surplus food from grocery stores, manufacturers, farmers, and government agencies. However, due to consumer stockpiling, shelf-stable products have been in low supply since March, straining food-relief efforts that rely on these products. Food banks have been forced to compete with each other for canned goods, in many cases purchasing the items themselves.
Global meat consumption will grow by 12% in the coming decade with lower-cost poultry accounting for half the increase, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In “Agricultural Outlook,” a joint report with Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD), the FAO predicts that poultry consumption worldwide will rise by 145 tons by 2029 and that aquaculture will surpass capture fisheries by 2024 as the top source of fish. Low feed costs for poultry and livestock will make these ventures more attractive to farmers, according to the report, and consumers in middle-income countries will continue to supplement traditional diets with more meat as it becomes affordable.
In developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa, meat consumption will rise five times faster than in developed nations, according to the joint report, as consumers in developed nations seek meat alternatives. “Environmental and health concerns in high-income countries are expected to support a transition away from animal-based protein toward alternative sources, as well as more immediate substitution away from red meat, notably beef, toward poultry and fish,” said the report. Although meat consumption is predicted to eventually rise, The OECD-FAO estimates that global meat consumption fell by 2% in 2019 with China experiencing at least a 21% drop in pork consumption due to the outbreak of African swine flu epidemic.
The pandemic has exposed several weaknesses in the U.S. food supply chain. When restaurants, stadiums, and schools closed, commercial growers could not quickly or easily repackage huge amounts of product for retail sale. At the same time, surging consumer demand at grocery stores outpaced the production capabilities of retail food packagers. The upside has been that smaller regional growers and wholesalers who had already been diversifying their products and sales channels began to fill the gap with direct-to-consumer sales both online and at local and regional farmstands. Farms such as G. Flores Produce and J & L Green Farm in Virginia were well-positioned to bring a variety of produce, meat, and dairy directly to consumers. Tom McDougall, owner of 4P, a food distributor in Virginia, began stepping up his distribution of products from farms such as G. Flores to restaurants, stores, and individual consumers. “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” asks McDougall, “if we came out of the other end of [COVID-19] with a more equitable, distributed, and resilient food system?”
While large-scale commercial farms have an inherent ability to reach more consumers more efficiently, the decentralized nature of more regional agriculture systems allows growers and distributors like G. Flores and 4P to respond more quickly to shifts in supply and demand, which could ultimately strengthen the food system and help eliminate food shortages. Groups such as the Mid-Atlantic Food Resilience and Access Coalition are already matching producers with buyers, creating what they call “community feeding networks” to reach consumers, institutions, and food banks, and to help keep farmers solvent. It remains to be seen how regional food systems and larger commercial agricultural systems will work together to solve potential food shortages, but the pandemic has already created unique alliances that may ultimately decrease food insecurity across the country.