- François-Xavier Branthôme
In these days when the first sessions of the San Juan 14th World Congress on the Processing Tomato should have been starting (postponed because of the risk posed by the spread of CoViD-19 on a global scale), the effects of measures undertaken at local, national and international levels are beginning to make themselves felt. As of mid-March, processors have not reported any significant disruption in preparations for the next season, as long as restrictions on the movement of people do not affect agricultural activities. For the time being, the shipments and deliveries of goods do not seem to be affected either, since the containment measures imposed in particular in Italy and the border closings decided by several countries only apply to people and not to goods.
Italy: no disruption to be feared during planting operations
As of 13 March, the Italian local press insisted that the coronavirus had not stopped the planting of processing tomatoes in southern Italy. These operations will take place this year as usual between mid-March and the end of April, or until the beginning of May for some protected designations of origin in the Salerno region.
The sector has stated that it is ready to avoid any disruption to the supply chain: "Seedlings in the nurseries are ready, and as the mild weather of the past few weeks has accelerated growth, we have no choice but to start planting. We are aware of the countless problems linked to this pandemic, given that we have never had to conduct a processing season in such conditions. But for the moment, we have all had access to personal protection equipment within the company from the start, and there will therefore be no problem for the planting operations, which will be carried out with mechanical equipment, or for the harvesting stage which will be carried out by machine harvesters. There is no question of stopping, we must respect the multiannual agreements that bind us to the tomato processing industries of Campania ", stated Francesco La Montagna of the La Montagna cooperative in Acerra (Na).
The planted areas dedicated to processing tomatoes in Campania should remain more or less the same this year as in 2019. In Puglia, the situation is different, as the sharp decrease in water reserves has resulted in a "considerable reduction in surfaces", with worried growers deciding not to plant tomatoes. As for price negotiations, the stakeholders explain that "for the moment, in this climate of uncertainty, nothing has really been discussed in terms of prices, in particular due to the fact that all assemblies and meetings are prohibited."
Italy: mutual support within the tomato industry
On 4 March, the ANICAV announced that "due to the restriction and containment measures linked to the emergency context resulting from the Coronavirus epidemic and issued by the authorities concerning the conduct of public gatherings, the planned event "Tomatoes – good for you, good for research", originally scheduled for 14 and 15 March, has been postponed to Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 May 2020, in order to allow the active participation of the large numbers of people who would have been prevented from participating in this event by the prohibition measures."
On 10 March 2020, the ANICAV (National Association of Canned Vegetable Industries) donated 100 000 euros to help purchase medical and sanitary equipment for the Campania and Emilia-Romagna regions.
Coronavirus: dramatic decline in popularity for Chinese and Italian cuisines
In this climate of uncertainty, a study published by Google Trends and Chefs Pencil, the food trends website, has revealed that interest in cuisines from China and Italy – the two hardest hit countries of the COV-19 outbreak – has plummeted.
In recent times, Chinese and Italian cuisines have been two of the most popular in the Western world. According to Chefs Pencil, Chinese and Italian feature in Australia, Canada, the US, the UK and Ireland among the top five choices for international cuisine. But the interest in Chinese food recently dropped 33%, Italian by 24%.
Comparing Google Trends data in early March – when China's COV-19 case count stood at approximately 80 711 with 3 045 reported deaths – to the average for January, demonstrates a steep decline in interest.
Italian cuisine also took a 24% nosedive with regard to global consumer interest over the same period. Nationwide, the UK saw a 10% reduction, 13% in the US, 25% in France, and 43% in Spain. Similarly to Chinese cuisine, interest dropped in Japan by 96%.
"Fewer people, especially in the UK, France and Spain, are searching locally for Italian restaurants and Italian foods. Google Trends data is usually well linked to consumer purchasing decisions, so it may mean slower business for local Italian restaurants and shops selling Italian produce," noted Chefs Pencil.
Why? Can COV-19 be transmitted via food?
Google Trends findings may be influenced by a variety of factors. According to Chefs Pencil, it is possible that consumers fear restaurant employees have recently visited their homeland and contracted the virus. Alternatively, consumers may believe the virus is present in the food products themselves.
Yet just a few days ago, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) put such concerns to rest, confirming there have not been any reports of transmission through food. Rather, the virus is spreading from person to person mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. "Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur," noted EFSA's chief scientist Marta Hugas. "At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect."
Given Italy's difficult commercial context, of which the recent TomatoWorld conference showed the internal market struggle to maintain trade flow at the retail level, Italian processors remain vigilant about the sales dynamics within the Horeca sector. A possible disaffection of consumers due to an unfortunate amalgam between the image of the countries most affected by the pandemic, erroneous information concerning the modes of transmission of the virus and the proven reality of the health risk – all of these factors could damage the image of the products and the commercial performance of the Italian industry, both domestically and on the export market.
However, it is still too early to measure the effects on the international tomato products trade of the CoViD-19 pandemic and the measures taken to deal with it. In order to keep Tomato News readers informed of market developments as closely and quickly as possible, we will now publish, alongside the monthly presentation of price data, a monthly follow-up of the export performances of the main countries involved in world trade in the paste sector.
A first report was drawn up with this in mind at the end of February 2020, and it is presented in the appendix to this article.
Some complementary data
For more complete official information (WHO) regarding CoViD-19:
Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus
How long does the virus survive on surfaces? Is it safe to receive a package from any area where COVID-19 has been reported?
General information and daily updates
Monthly statistics for exports from the eight main countries operating in the tomato paste category (updated 26 February 2020).
Source: freshplaza.it, anicav.it