Is the food industry affected by the coronavirus sars-cov‑2?

The Coronavirus, which is believed to come from a food market in Wuhan City in Hubei province, has now been given a name: sars-cov-2. The new virus does not pose a direct threat to deliveries or transportation, in terms of infection, as it does not survive outside the body. But there are other clouds of concern in the sky. Now it is important to think about the indirect consequences that the virus outbreak can bring. How prepared is the food industry?

26 February 2020 •

The world has once again become acquaint­ed with a so-called coro­n­avirus. Many peo­ple will sure­ly remem­ber the SARS out­break in 2003 or the MERS out­break in 2012. Coronavirus is an umbrel­la term for a virus fam­i­ly that orig­i­nates in wildlife. The lat­est in the line is sars-cov­‑2, which got its name from the English term ‘coro­n­avirus dis­ease 201’. Media report­ing is main­ly about the num­ber of sick and dead and how the virus is spread­ing to new places around the world. But what is the sit­u­a­tion in the food indus­try; has the virus been acti­vat­ed with full force even in our area? We will dis­cuss the food indus­try and the effects of the virus out­break in this article.

Risk of infection handling goods

The food indus­try today is a glob­al indus­try. Even in the seem­ing­ly local­ly pro­duced prod­uct, you can find ingre­di­ents and addi­tives that orig­i­nate else­where. The ingre­di­ents of these ingre­di­ents and addi­tives can, in turn, come from anoth­er place. Therefore, there is a risk of find­ing prod­ucts where parts of the con­tent come from coun­tries, or areas where the coro­n­avirus is found.

Therefore, the ques­tion nat­u­ral­ly comes to mind whether the coro­n­avirus can accom­pa­ny ingre­di­ents and addi­tives in the glob­al sup­ply chain of food pro­duc­tion, thus spread­ing to new places.

How is it for exam­ple with prod­uct pack­ag­ing. Can an enve­lope car­ry the dread­ed virus?

Based on what we cur­rent­ly know about the virus, it is unlike­ly that the virus can be trans­mit­ted from one sur­face to a human being, for exam­ple from a pal­let, or prod­uct pack­ag­ing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is still not entire­ly known how long the virus can sur­vive out in the open. However, the expe­ri­ence of pre­vi­ous coro­n­avirus out­breaks indi­cates that they do not sur­vive very long on, for exam­ple, let­ters, pack­ages, or oth­er goods. Receiving, for exam­ple, an enve­lope is thus with­out risk, accord­ing to WHO.

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Stops in the supply chain

But are there oth­er con­se­quences that go beyond the risk of infection?

The nuclear acci­dent in Fukushima is a telling exam­ple of unfor­tu­nate chain effects. What start­ed as an earth­quake became a nuclear acci­dent, which in turn affect­ed the indus­try and the sup­ply chain. Factories pro­duc­ing com­po­nents for flash mem­o­ry were con­cen­trat­ed in the dis­as­ter zone. As a result, the price of flash dri­ves increased by 20 percent.

The idea that a virus out­break can have sim­i­lar con­se­quences is not very far away. In addi­tion to human suf­fer­ing in the form of ill­ness and, at worst, death, indi­rect con­se­quences can be quite problematic.

In recent weeks we have read about ship­ping, logis­tics and sup­ply chains that are in many cas­es, more or less still. This is because peo­ple who usu­al­ly work in fac­to­ries and in agri­cul­ture are quar­an­tined, or entire com­mu­ni­ties that are almost shut down.

In addi­tion, many car­go ships from oth­er coun­tries are pro­hib­it­ed from dock­ing to the Chinese ports they usu­al­ly vis­it. Instead, they are now out on the open sea await­ing the course of events.

The food industry

But what about the food indus­try? Although there is no direct dan­ger in han­dling goods, there may be oth­er fac­tors that affect trade in affect­ed areas, such as the fact that, as a food pro­duc­er, you trade in raw mate­ri­als from China.

Is this some­thing that food man­u­fac­tur­ers have begun to think about? It doesn’t seem that way. At least not in Sweden. According to the Swedish indus­try orga­ni­za­tion, Livsmedelsföretagen, no mem­bers have expressed con­cern or asked ques­tions about the coro­n­avirus in terms of direct or indi­rect consequences.

But have com­pa­nies in the food indus­try them­selves been affected?

We have asked the two largest gro­cery stores in Sweden if they have noticed any con­se­quences in their oper­a­tions, as a result of the coro­n­avirus. For exam­ple, if there as been stops or delays in the sup­ply chain. Both gro­cery stores also have their own brands and prod­ucts, in a vari­ety of prod­uct categories.

The food chain ICA could not answer our ques­tions about whether their prod­ucts are indi­rect­ly affect­ed by the virus outbreak.

ICA’s clos­est com­peti­tor Coop says that they are not sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect­ed at present, as a very small part of their food is pro­duced in China. Furthermore, they fol­low the Swedish Food Agency’s rec­om­men­da­tions. There is cur­rent­ly no indi­ca­tion that the virus can be spread through food, accord­ing to Coop.

According to Coop, it is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how this will devel­op. They say they are pre­pared by fol­low­ing the events close­ly and con­tin­u­ous­ly work­ing to reduce their vulnerability.

It could be prob­lem­at­ic to extrap­o­late the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Sweden with the rest of Europe. But our find­ings offer a hint of the sta­tus and prepa­ra­tion among busi­ness­es in the food industry.

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The coming months

If the virus is spread­ing in Europe, there is an immi­nent risk that the sup­ply chain of both raw mate­ri­als and oth­er goods will be affect­ed. There have been reports of a lack of con­tain­ers, which affects com­pa­nies in the auto­mo­tive and cloth­ing indus­try in particular.

The virus is spread­ing in real-time and the ques­tions we ask our­selves now can quick­ly become out­dat­ed or irrel­e­vant. Although the virus does not appear to have any con­se­quences for the food indus­try at present, the sit­u­a­tion can change rapid­ly if the virus spreads in Europe.

Possible con­se­quences in the European food indus­try are lim­it­ed pro­duc­tion capac­i­ty, as it becomes more dif­fi­cult and expen­sive to obtain raw materials.

Another effect is if the logis­tics and trans­port indus­try is affect­ed in a sim­i­lar way as in China, where boats can­not dock to ports. But even trans­port on land can poten­tial­ly be affect­ed if trucks can­not trav­el through virus-affect­ed areas.

When a pan­dem­ic starts to fade out, prob­lems can also arise. When man­u­fac­tur­ing and trans­porta­tion are going back to nor­mal, there may be a pent-up need that cre­ates bot­tle­necks and dri­ves up costs.

If there is cause for con­cern depends on what hap­pens in the com­ing weeks or months. From a food per­spec­tive, there is rea­son to fol­low the events closely.

Does Bayn have raw materials from China?

Bayn buys some raw mate­ri­als from China. For exam­ple, in China, some of the ste­vias we cul­ti­vate and sell under the NAVIA brand is grown and used in our sweet­ened fibre EUREBA. Therefore, we close­ly mon­i­tor the events and keep our dis­trib­u­tors and direct cus­tomers informed of our actions. We fol­low the rec­om­men­da­tions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and EU authorities.

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