As 2020 — and with it the traditionally busy holiday season — comes to a close, how have Northeast farmers, producers and growers fared? How has COVID-19 impacted sales and the customer experience? Here we will look at a few key holiday staple items as and how COVID-19 has impacted their sales.
Thanksgiving turkeys and all the fixings
Farm Credit East Customer Service Council members meet three times per year and, in addition to providing feedback on the cooperative, provide us with industry insights. At their fall meetings held virtually in November, they informed us that many farms are having record or near-record years. This trend is partly due to COVID-19, which has resulted in heightened customer interest in locally sourced food as consumers avoid supermarkets and increasingly prepare fresh food for their families at home as access to restaurants has been limited.
COVID-19 also boosted interest in community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms, farm stands, and small producers as well. The convenient model of buying subscriptions for locally sourced products drove sales to new records for many CSA producers, as well as conventional agricultural retail producers, as they changed their business models to provide new customer experiences on the farm. In general, many producers saw new and increased sales as consumers tried to source local products through the CSA model or support the local family-run farm stand and market.
Many farm wineries, breweries and distilleries were also able to recover some of their lost tasting-room sales as they developed and implemented new practices for online sales, virtual tastings and subscriptions to make up for limited on-farm tastings and experiences.
Many pick-your-own operations for apples and other fall items saw sharp increases in sales as well. Those operations that were able to open their farms to customers were able to offer an experience for the many people tired of being stuck at home and looking to get outside and take advantage of the beautiful Northeast fall that we were blessed with this year.
Turkey production in the United States provides 387,346 jobs, $22.0 billion in wages, and $103.4 billion in economic activity according to a recent study by the National Turkey Federation.1 With smaller family gatherings due to COVID-19, many people opted for smaller birds compared to years past. While gatherings may have been smaller, close to 70% of Americans celebrated thanksgiving at home as compared to 48% last year.2 So, even though the public bought smaller turkeys, the greater numbers resulted in increased sales.
The all-important cranberry sauce
How can we not make a special mention of the cranberry, historically grown in Massachusetts? This simple and humble fruit has become a symbol of the holiday season. Recently, a viral TikTok fan video spurred a movement around cranberry juice, driving sales to levels not seen in years. This helped provide the market with a more stable price which was welcomed news to local growers. In Massachusetts alone there are over 363 growers producing 13,500 acres of cranberries each year.3 Demand for cranberry products had farmer-owned Ocean Spray working around the clock to fulfill orders and deliver their products to consumers.4 Starting in mid-September, Ocean Spray processed close to 100 billion cranberries in the weeks leading up to holiday season.
Christmas Trees & Decorations
In the Northeast, there are over 3,800 Christmas tree growers producing close to one million trees annually according to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture.5 This year, many people are trying to bring natural beauty and authenticity to the challenging and stressful year that has been 2020.
Across the Northeast, producers are reporting booming sales, new customers and low stocks as many people seek a real tree this year. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, sales are up 29% so far in 2020.6 The traditional tree season even started earlier this year, as customers couldn’t wait to get their trees. As a result, some farms may sell out early, which all-in-all, translates to a better-than-expected year for many across the Northeast.
As we close out 2020 — from all of us at Farm Credit East and the many farmers, foresters and commercial fishermen — we wish you and your family a safe and healthy holiday season and wish you the best as we enter 2021.
3 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture
5 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture
6 https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/03/christmas-tree-sales-are-telling-a-holly-jolly-economic-story.html (Evercore ISI contracted by NCTA)