The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the local and global food supply chains and is likely to continue to do so for the forseeable future, according to importers.
Global surges in demand for groceries, immigrant labour shortages on farms, social distancing in factories and the added complexity of global shipping are all taking their toll.
Initially, the biggest impact locally was the closure of restaurants as Cayman locked down, says Gina Peck, marketing supervisor at Progressive Distributors. A lot of produce destined for tables across the island was donated to Meals on Wheels and other charities in the early days of the pandemic.
There were opposite problems on the retail side, with additional demand for groceries – both in Cayman and the US – creating supply headaches for food producers and manufacturers.
Some companies, like Tropicana Orange Juice and Organic Valley milk, cut the number of products they offered in order to meet a surge in demand.
The impact is now being felt most keenly in the meat-packing industry where social distancing is affecting output and driving up price. Border closures are also impacting the movement of migrant labour required for farming and fruit picking in the US.
Here, the diversity of Cayman’s food supply sources is a strength.
“We are fortunate that we have supply chains form Europe, Australia and the Philippines and are not just reliant on the US,” says Peck.
Surging global demand amid a second wave of lockdowns, still ongoing in many countries, is also stretching the capacity of shipping companies around the world.
Markets globally are still experiencing delays, not only from capacity issues but also due to ship crews having to self-isolate after contracting the virus and a worldwide lack of shipping containers.
The scarcity of containers and other supply chain bottlenecks have driven up prices, particularly for shipments from Asia.
Peter Dutton, of Jacques Scott, noted that a recent shipment of wines and spirits from France was subject to a EUR1,000 surcharge, which the shipping company required to secure a container in the current market.
However, while Cayman has seen a few shipping delays, price hikes have so far been limited and the market is expected to normalise this year.
More generally, Cayman is fortunate to be served by three shipping companies (Seabord Marine, Tropical and Hyde), Dutton said. “We are lucky in that sense. It has been quite competitive.”