Wednesday 27 May, 2020

Loop's interview with Woody Foster about food and grocery supplies

With well-publicized COVID19-related logistical, supply chain and export issues affecting the United States, there has been legitimate concern around the issue of local food supplies.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Loop Cayman has had the opportunity to explore these issues both within the Cayman-context and throughout the wider Caribbean. We have had the opportunity to connect stories from the United States to those of many Caribbean markets who rely on US imports for up to ninety per cent of their food supply. We have spoken to retailers, port workers, farmers and processors.

What are the facts? The Caribbean is one of the most food-insecure regions in the world. There is limited intra-regional trade. Most markets do not consume as much locally produced food as they could. COVID-19 has affected US supplies to the Caribbean region, including Cayman.

What is also evident is that the retailers of Cayman are highly capable and are doing everything in their power to access alternate sources of products. This means that there is no need for panic buying or hoarding.

Rather, what is required is that Caymanians remain informed so that we can intelligently weather this storm together.

We thank Woody Foster, Managing Director of Foster's Supermarkets for answering our questions.

Loop Cayman: Are you seeing a reduction in access to US food supplies in the past month? 

Woody Foster: Short answer is yes! However, our suppliers are working with us and our competitors to ensure that we have adequate supplies for the country. We do have reduced variety and we have had to get creative with where and how we buy but by and large we are keeping the country well stocked with food and other goods.

Loop Cayman: In what areas have there been reductions? 

Woody Foster: We had major reductions in rice, pasta, cleaning products, soap, canned goods, etc. However, as the weeks have marched on, our access to these products has gotten better but not resolved. Cleaning supplies and sanitation wipes, cup soups, toilet paper and paper towel and some others are still presenting us with challenges.

Loop Cayman: Do you foresee supply shortages being an issue in the future?

Woody Foster: That depends on how the US manages its reopening process throughout the various states. If they cannot contain and [there is] resurgence [of COVID-19] and the food producers or indeed any part of the supply chain succumbs to major outbreaks then we could see shortages as we did in March and April. However, even during those difficult months our suppliers and those of our competitors were able to keep us in a decent supply of products and they have committed to continue to do the same moving forward. We all weathered the shortage storm really well when we look at our peers in the US and what the condition of their stores looked like.

Loop Cayman: How has the demand for food supplies changed between the beginning of the pandemic and now?

Woody Foster: Everyone in the food supply business in Cayman has had to make new relationships in order to broaden their reach on finding products. We have had to purchase goods from these new suppliers cash upfront as we had no relationship with them. We have been purchasing more products than we need to try and ensure we do not run out as we had no visibility into whether our orders would be fulfilled. Suppliers are no longer honouring ad pricing as they face the same issues with their suppliers.

Positive cases in the meat industry are forcing plants to close. Trucker shortages and general food supply chain hold-ups as the chain was completely overwhelmed. Prices have skyrocketed in the face of supply and demand.

There has been tremendous disruption, as the entire world has felt, but living on an island simply puts a little more pressure on trying to figure it all out. But, our respective teams are up to the challenge and will do everything we can to protect our country's food security.

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: