Pandemic drives increase in direct to consumer sales
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic has left us stunned as to how this disease has affected nearly every single part of our lives. Agriculture is no exception.
Farms and food processers have dealt with labor shortages that have, in turn, resulted in food shortages. These shortages are obvious in empty shelves at the grocery store with dramatically higher food prices. Consumers are now spending over 5% more on food than they did prior to the pandemic. It is shocking to see empty shelves when shopping, especially in the meat counter.
Employee absences due to COVID-19 have caused meat-processing plants to reduce output or shut down completely. Labor shortages on farms have also played a part in food shortages. In the beginning of the pandemic, grocery stores could not keep meat and eggs in stock. Consumers have responded by turning to local farmers and ranchers to help fill their pantries and freezers. When consumers bypass the grocery store and buy food direct from farmers and ranchers, it is referred to as direct to consumer sales.
Direct to consumer sales (DTC) have been rising for years as families increasingly buy their food from farmer's markets, online farmer websites, farm food stands and other venues. Reasons for this are varied, but some examples include a desire to support local farms, consumers demanding to know how and where their food is raised, and a desire for organic and natural foods.
This rise in DTC sales has increased dramatically due to the pandemic of 2020. In addition, the closing of restaurants has forced consumers to eat more meals at home, further driving DTC sales. This method of selling direct to consumers increases profits for agriculture producers and encourages consumers to build relationships with local farmers and ranchers.
One popular sales method is when farmers set up a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. CSA programs allow consumers to sign up for meat, eggs or produce from farmer websites, allowing customers to receive a box or grocery bag(s) with a predetermined amount of meat or produce each month. The farmer fills these orders and delivers purchased food to their doors or to an alternate location to be picked up by their customers.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates there are over 7,000 CSA programs currently in operation across the United States. Since the pandemic, the growth of farmer CSAs has significantly increased.
Additional direct to consumer sales methods offered by ranchers include selling meat by the package from a farm store or by selling the entire animal in quarters, halves and wholes. Once the animal is processed, customers pick up their share of the meat at the local butcher plant.
If customers want a grocery store type of experience, Central Oregon is fortunate to have Central Oregon Locavore in Bend. This store offers a variety of produce, meat and eggs all raised in Central Oregon. To find information on signing up for a CSA or to purchase food direct from local agriculture producers, Central Oregon Locavore is a good place to start.
With increased demand from the pandemic, farmers and ranchers are not having difficulty providing enough food to meet this demand. Ranchers are simply pivoting away from traditional markets and selling more animals through DTC sales. However, this increased demand for meat processing has translated into a significant backlog at local butcher plants. Wait times for a butcher date are now delayed six months to a year. In some cases, ranchers are driving long distances and even out of state to find a butcher to process their animals. Local plants are doing everything possible to meet this demand, but there is limited plant capacity.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture is currently working with Oregon State University Extension, butchers and ranchers to find solutions for the meat-processing backlog. However, due to the high cost of building additional meat processing plants, finding quick solutions is very difficult.
As this pandemic continues to evolve, increased demand for local food will likely continue. The agriculture community is working hard to support this demand. Consumers will have to be patient and rest assured that supporting their local farmers and ranchers is worth the wait.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.