World Grain - October 2020 - 58

FEATURE: COVID-19 OPENS OPPORTUNITIES FOR AG INDUSTRY

I am always inspired by the resiliency, resourcefulness
and commitment of farmers. It's really important we in
ag take advantage of the opportunities that
are created by this dramatic challenge
to the food chain. This is an opportunity to increase and deepen the
dialogue between producers
and consumers."
CONSUMER AWARENESS
During the pandemic, there
has been an explosion of interest in the food system, including how food moves from
here to there, Ruhland said, as
well as its origins.
Consumers are more engaged and
empowered, a trend that has strengthRuhland ened with the pandemic, said Mary Shelman, Shelman
Group. Millennials are leading the way on value-based
decisions and are taking into consideration climate
change, animal welfare, the environment
and the origin of products.
The industry responded with highpriced specialty products with inFUHDVLQJOHYHOVRIGL൵HUHQWLDWLRQ
For example, it wasn't enough
for eggs to come from cagefree birds, but they also had to
be free range, she said. With
companies copying and then
one-upping each other, what
was unique eventually became
commonplace.
"Entire categories over time
converted to that new attribute,"
Shelman said. "What was unique today
Shelman becomes a commodity of tomorrow."
COVID-19 has created a fractured demand with calls
for both the premium items as well as value products.
"Some describe it as a polarization of demand," she
said. "The growth had been on the premium side. How
are we going to respond on that other piece?"
Agriculture needs to get closer with its buyers who
are in major cities, close the urban-rural divide and
hear from more diverse voices, Ruhland said. It needs
to connect with the people who were really anxious
and had concerns that they would go hungry when they
saw empty grocery store shelves.
Sustainability is another major trend that has accelerated during the pandemic. Over the last years, it
has changed from a marketing tool to a fundamental
UHTXLUHPHQW6KHOPDQVDLGEXWKRZLWLVGH¿QHGLVD
moving target.
58

"The boundaries continue to shift," she said. "What
is the objective - is it sustainable agriculture or sustainable food? What is clear is that the sustainability of
an ag product cannot be improved once it gets past the
farm gate."
COVID-19 spotlighted the strained relationship between people and nature. It served as a wake-up call to
the industry and consumers for a more sustainable and
resilient food system, Shelman said. The new normal
could mean a rise in local and regional food systems.

It was insightful to
consumers that farmers
are critical infrastructure.
I don't think we've
ever been thought of
that way before.
Polly Ruhland, CEO, United Soybean Board
Resilience will depend on diversity, such as distributed production, redundancy (excess supply) and slack,
or extra capacity, she said. The increased costs will be
similar to an insurance premium, and the question is
who will pay for it? The burden cannot fall on farmers,
and there is still the question of whether consumers or
retailers would value this change, she said.
While she is not surprised by the surge in sustainability concerns, Shelman said she did not expect the
pressure to reduce animal protein consumption overall.
Several news articles have championed avoiding meat
and dairy as the single biggest way for consumers to
impact the earth.
2YHU WKH ODVW WZR \HDUV VLJQL¿FDQW LQYHVWPHQW KDV
been made into alternative proteins, whether it's plantbased protein or lab-grown proteins, she said.
"There's a lot of interest in this space and certainly
a lot of investor activity in this space," she said. "This
alternative meat segment could be quite large."
Investment in the agriculture sector is coming from
diverse investors, even more so as a result of the pandemic. The level of investment has grown 10 times
over the last 10 years, and the type of investor has
changed.
"It used to be specialist groups that understood
ag and were willing to take the risk," Shelman said.
"Today we have general venture capitalists, governments and sovereign wealth funds that are concerned
about food security. We also have impact investors, like
October 2020 / World Grain / www.World-Grain.com


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World Grain - October 2020

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