Steve Barnard: Dealing with Curveballs
OXNARD, CA - Going on six weeks of sheltering in, I know I’m ready to say, “Enough’s enough, let’s get back to the fast pace!” We aren’t geared for slow, we are a diamond-lane kind of industry. But, in this case, patience prevails.
The good thing about our industry is that, no matter how bad it gets, people still have to eat. There are certain things that are disposable—going to a gym, shopping for clothes, or visiting a shopping center—but food is not. People might change what they eat, but they still need to eat some form of food. And it appears fresh produce, especially avocados, is not only popular, but healthy, which is critical in these times.
This brings us to the good news, which is that business is getting better. Exports are still performing, retail is rebounding and on track to be close to normal, and even though foodservice is still lagging behind, it is also getting better.
What I have learned over my career is to keep it simple, take risks, and play offense. You can’t force anything at this point, and so at Mission Produce, we’re just letting the game come to us and keep telling our team, “Pretend this is a tennis match and just get the ball back over the net.” We’ll score later, for now we just stay in the game and make sure we are doing everything we can for the customers, the growers, and everyone in between. Keep the ball going over the net by ensuring the customer’s demands are satisfied, making sure we have enough product and deliver on time. For this, communication is critical.
At retail, we are seeing an increase in sales of bags of avocados. Consumers are buying for volume assuming they don’t want to stand in line every day, and there’s a possible perception that it hasn’t been touched. When the crisis started, we noticed cancelations of ripened product and, as a result, we backed off a bit on the percent of product we were ripening. That has since picked back up.
The other part of the equation is to ensure you are doing a lot of planning. Much of our product to meet demand comes from offshore operations and there’s a lot of planning involved. When you get situations like this, the plan gets disrupted, so you better have backups and contingencies in place.
Times like this pandemic test one’s character and resolve. Take it one day at a time, keep your head up, and stay positive. If this was easy, anybody could do it.