Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

RANCH MUSINGS: Impacts of COVID-19 on food systems

Pivoting, as I understand it, is changing direction at a steep angle

As I go about my seasonal ranch work and spend quite some time in the larger world of farm organizations, I can’t help but try to imagine how our business might ‘pivot.’

Pivoting, as I understand it, is changing direction at a steep angle or keeping one foot on the ground and placing the other in a step in a different direction. All of this is done quickly.

Editors and columnists in the mainline farm journals are complementing farmers for how resilient their industry has been during the pandemic. We were able to provide our small inventory of our unsold processed product to consumers who wished to purchase locally.

All of us in the direct marketing business could have sold more.

It seems the tide of demand for local product has come in. Several articles have opined that the pandemic just sped up trends that were already underway.

READ MORE: Technology and visions for the future in food and agriculture

I recently took part in The International Dairy Federation’s outlook conference via an online webinar.

The most outstanding takeaway was the fact that sales of ice cream and potato chips sky rocketed during the pandemic. Comfort food, you might say.

I think the closest dairy to us doing local/regional marketing is Blackwell Dairy near Kamloops who sells up into this area. They make great ice cream. And I have heard of people who have tubs of Haagen-Dazs (high end ice cream) in their freezer.

It seems there are two broad categories of consumers: those for whom money is no object and those who are struggling to feed healthy food at a good price to their family.

This conference had a focus on consumer behavior. I will paraphrase the notes of one of my colleagues who took in the same conference:

Consumers are experiencing increased anxiety over COVID again. Sixty-five per cent of consumers have changed the way they buy.

Forty-five per cent are buying more online. Seventy-five per cent are spending more time online.

There has been an increase in the number of people who intend to grocery shop online after COVID.

To the extent that there has been a reduction in meat purchases by those surveyed by the Dairy Federation panelist, they have done so 58 per cent due to health concerns, a little less than that because of animal treatment and concern over carbon footprint.

READ MORE: Mental health and well-being in these times of COVID-19

Online shopping is increasing because people like it—just show up at the store having ordered online. In food services, there is a greater focus on speed of service and moving away from ‘dining in.’

Dairy sales online are up 201 per cent.

Cooking from scratch and easy-to-prepare are certainly up and the trend is expected to stay.

Sanitation concerns are high.

Back on the topic of meat sales and ‘local’ products. One of the headlines in the October issues of Country Life in B.C. in October is: BC BEEF set to launch.

The cattle industry in B.C. has been working for five years and is set to launch products from a leased facility in Westwold — the federally inspected meat plant owned by KML.

Product can be exported out of B.C. and Canada as well as serve the people of B.C.

It is interesting the new CEO was brought in from elsewhere in Canada. Good managers are hard to come by — a sign of the times. I look forward to sharing details in a future article.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.


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