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In a World Turned Outside In, I am Now Officially “Non-Essential”

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By John Saulnier, FrozenFoodsBiz Editorial Director

Lately the views, click-throughs and impressions made by visitors to www.FrozenFoodsBiz.com have been far greater than usual. We suspect it’s because of our increasing coverage of the impact the “World War C” Covid-19 scourge is having on your business. Rest assured that we shall continue to do our utmost to keep readers up to date on important developments in the sector.

Like many of you, my life these days has literally turned outside in. I am self-isolating, following social distancing guidelines, and of course washing my hands more thoroughly and frequently than ever. Regarded as “non-essential personnel” by the duly elected powers that be in my state – unlike my officially “essential” better half who is a logistics wiz and procurement director at a frozen food company that is rightfully regarded as critical to the nation’s well being – I am obliged to work at home. This is not so very hard to adjust to, as when not on the road I often work in a home office anyway.

The road I should have been on today is long stretch of motorway heading from the Netherlands south to Brussels, then on to West Flanders for visits with Europe’s leading frozen vegetable producers on Friday. That trip will have to take place at another time – hopefully not long after the world eventually breaks the back of the deadly coronavirus and life returns to normal, though the “new normal” will not likely resemble the old world of as we have known it – and I don’t feel fine.

The invisible invasion of the killer epidemic has turned the world outside in socially and upside down economically in a matter of months. Originating in Wuhan, China late last year, by now the Covid-19 respiratory disease has spread to virtually all parts of the planet and been attributed to almost 17,000 deaths at this writing. The number of confirmed cases of infection has topped 380,000, and the epicenter of its indiscriminate devastation and disruption has moved from the PRC to Italy, where the appalling death toll of 6,077 has surpassed China’s 3,277 fatalities.

The World Health Organization warns that the United States, which has logged 43,732 cases and suffered 525 deaths thus far, could soon be the new epicenter of disaster. In the USA almost 60% of total cases have been recorded in the New York City metro area, where all restaurants, bars, schools, theatres and places of worship are closed and residents are told to stay at home unless they are going out for groceries, require prescriptions to be filled at pharmacies, or seeking medical attention. The same rules apply for much of the country and the rest of the world. Indeed, a 21-day lockdown just went into effect in India, a nation where 1.3 billion people live in 36 states and territories.

As China gradually reopens for business after being largely shut down for almost two months to fight the virus and contain its spread, much of the rest of the world now finds itself in the path of the demon bug’s advance. Commerce as well as social life and financial well being has been greatly disrupted, as unemployment has risen dramatically and many trillions of dollars of value was wiped out in global stock market dives between January 20 and February 28. For much of March volatile markets continued to fall, while business activity in the United States and Europe sank to the lowest levels on record. Investors, spooked by the short and long term economic impact of Covid-19, looked for national governments to put together financial packages to assist companies in dire straits and workers hard hit by economic dislocation.

Then, bingo, as US congressional leaders indicated they were close to agreeing on a $2 trillion rescue plan on March 24, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared by 2,112 points to 20,704.91, or 11.4%, marking its greatest daily gain since 1933. The package calls for cutting direct checks of up to $3,400 for American families of four; $1,200 for adults with annual income of up to $75,000 plus $500 more per child; a $350 billion loan program for struggling small businesses; plus relief for the airline industry.

“This package will be the single largest main street assistance program in the history of the United States,” says Larry Kudlow during a White House coronavirus task force briefing.

Two hours after Wall Street trading closed for the day, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council under US President Donald Trump, announced that the total emergency relief package to support the economy would amount to roughly $6 trillion, or about one-fourth of the nation’s gross domestic product. It will include approximately $4 trillion in Federal Reserve lending power for additional bailouts, as needed.

“This package will be the single largest main street assistance program in the history of the United States,” said Kudlow during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. “It’s liquidity and cash for families, small businesses, individuals and the unemployed…We’re heading for a rough period – but it’s only going to be weeks or months, we think. It’s not going to be years, that’s for sure. And hopefully it will pave the way for economic recovery after the crisis departs.”

The Trump Administration optimistically thinks that the United States, or at least parts of the nation, can get back to work by Easter. We will see about that, wishing for the best. If it does not happen as planned, the White House warns that the unemployment rate in America could rise to levels as high as 20% or more. God forbid!

Nation states run the real risk of self-induced economic recession or worse by overreacting in the production sphere and throwing multitudes of people out of the workforce for extended periods of time – especially in regions where the impact of Covid-19 has been minimal and if and when the vast majority of its population tests negative for the virus. We can only hope and pray that the cure is not worse than the disease for those who survive this greatly unsettling medical crisis.

Frozen Food Industry Rises to Occasion

Meanwhile, come hell or high water, we all have to eat. And the frozen food industry is once again rising to occasion to provide sustenance to the masses until and after this viral storm passes. Supermarket and grocery store shoppers increasingly count on frozen, canned and shelf stable products during troubled times. Many operators are shutting down fresh seafood and meat counters so that employees may devote full time to restocking shelves and help fill online orders.

The foodservice sector, while suffering tremendously as restaurants and lunchrooms have been closed, is doing all it can to serve regular customers and new clients by providing takeout meals and making home deliveries.

The coronavirus catastrophe is bringing out the better instincts of those around us, as we are all in the same lifeboat. Heartwarming examples of human interconnectedness are seen near and far. While big companies such as Lineage Logistics raise millions of dollars to help feed the needy, so-called “average” men and women are making lesser but just as important donations to trusted charities that provide sunshine on dark days.

We understand that in the United Kingdom folks at Chester Racecourse on the banks of the River Dee are offering healthcare workers and emergency services staff free microwaveable frozen meals as a gesture of thanks for their dedication in going above and beyond the call of duty during the exhausting Covid-19 crisis. The menu is pretty impressive too, as it includes such fare as Mediterranean Pesto Chicken, Lasagne, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish Pie and Thai Vegetable Curry. Giddyup!

The crew at Roodee (as the oldest track in Britain, circa 1539, is known) has joined the newly launched Coordinated Community Response and donated £1,000 to kick off a fund drive to help the West Cheshire Foodbank aid Covid-19 victims. Should you be interested in contributing to the cause, visit www.justgiving.com for more information.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Our ancestors, surely, have been through much worse than that which we are facing now – both during the 1918-20 Spanish Flu pandemic that is said to have infected about 25% of the planet’s population and is estimated to have killed between 50-100 million people; and the carnage of World War II which claimed the lives of an estimated 70-80 million, or about 3% of the world’s population in 1940. During what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) called a “typical” 2018-19 influenza season in the United States, which lasted for 21 weeks, 42.9 million people were infected, approximately 647,000 were hospitalized, and 61,200 died. The death toll then compared to 79,400 the years before.

Harry Fern, a 95-year-old British veteran of the bloody D-Day invasion of Normandy, France in 1944, recently offered these words to his countrymen as the phantom onslaught is now at hand throughout the land: “I served my country, and did my duty. Now it’s your duty to sit on a couch. Please save lives. It’s as simple as that.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, while likening the accelerating speed of Covid-19 infections in his state to a “bullet train,” has urged citizens not to panic over the very real threat they now confront. “We’re fighting the virus and we’re fighting fear and panic,” he said. “The fear and panic is, if anything, worse than the virus.”

Keep calm and carry on.