There were moments, early in the pandemic, when Joseph Musillami wasn’t sure how the family business would make it.
Purely Meat Co., a commercial butcher in Chicago that supplies mostly high-end restaurants, saw sales plummet 75% when the state banned indoor dining in March. It let go of many of its 60 employees.
“It started out beyond scary when you think you’re going to lose your house,” said Musillami, whose wife, Maribel Moreno-Musillami, founded the company nine years ago.
But for all the struggles, he thinks the meat company will come out on top.
His wife created a website to sell Purely Meat’s products directly to consumers, and soon it became a major part of the business. The company’s drivers deliver cases of vacuum-sealed, freezer-ready prime cuts to people’s suburban doorsteps rather than the city’s swank downtown restaurants. Going into 2021, it plans to help restaurants sell branded products to consumers as well.
“These are two new facets of our business that we would never have dreamed of doing,” Musillami said.
In various pockets of the food industry, a bruising year is giving way to optimism that the lessons learned will make for a stronger 2021.
Farmers and other food producers that pivoted their business models to find new revenue streams are making some of those changes permanent. Grocery stores are adapting to consumers’ embrace of online food shopping.
While the local foods movement has been growing for a decade, the pandemic gave it a shot in the arm as people sought to support community and became more aware of quality as they cooked at home. Empty grocery store shelves also revealed the potential for supply chain disruptions and prompted shoppers to explore buying directly from local farms, which were reeling from the disruption of restaurant and other food service clients and needed new revenue streams.
Some farms, especially those near cities, dove into e-commerce to sell directly to consumers, and customers were patient as they worked out the kinks, said Raghela Scavuzzo, associate director of food systems development at the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Milk delivery made a comeback. Community Supported Agriculture programs, which deliver boxes of produce, found new customers. Farmers collaborated to deliver their products together to reduce costs and created bundled boxes to sell at farmers markets.
The pandemic’s greatest impact on grocery stores may not be what they sell, but how they sell it. Consumers who previously might not have trusted others to pick their avocados gave online grocery shopping a shot and many of them are expected to become permanent converts.
In a September poll of 60,000 consumers, 43% said they had purchased groceries online in the past six months, up from 24% who said the same two years earlier, and nearly half said they plan to continue to do so.
Online shopping is expected to account for 21% of grocery sales by 2025, or $250 billion, a 60% increase over pre-pandemic estimates, according to the poll from Mercatus, a grocery e-commerce platform, and Incisiv, a consumer insights firm.
— Tribune News Service
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