It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of COVID-19 on fresh fruit and vegetable quality control. From the disruption to the supply chain, to the complexities of logistics during the pandemic, and of course the ripple effect on human capital, here’s what we’ve learned during 2020.
The Practicalities of QC Inspections During the Pandemic
Pre-COVID-19, quality inspections were often completed in person, where a buyer and a seller would meet together in order to perform the quality control inspection. Of course, when the pandemic hit, this was off the table entirely, and both buyers and sellers began to look for a new way to ensure quality control remotely. You may still have a single inspector, but the reliance on human capital is much less extensive.
This has been essential, not only for health and safety of the workers on the ground, but also because the availability of human capital has been much less predictable, and more volatile. Think about the availability of QC inspectors, many of whom come from Eastern European countries, and who couldn’t physically cross the border during the pandemic. This caused a lot of issues, and dramatically reduced the ability to rely on existing channels.
Of course, the impact of this is that as your business has less people to rely on, each one of the existing staff needs to be a lot more productive, to keep the optimum quality of the supply heading to your customer.
Understanding What this Means on a Macro Level
Now think about these issues en-masse. If the industry at large is suffering from less human capital, more complex logistics, and restrictions over travel, we’re talking about a need for a new approach to quality control across the entire value chain. Think about an exporter of table grapes from one continent to another. Previously, they might have had a margin of error of 5%. Now, the supply chain is more complex, shipments are fewer, and they have less people on the ground. A 5% error rate suddenly becomes a lot less manageable.
Here’s a second example, totally different, but equally challenging. Pre-pandemic, regulatory boards would send their own auditors to perform spot checks or regular appointments to see the quality of the produce. As this has become impossible, how can regulators ensure checks and balances?
Both of these issues are disrupting fresh produce logistics, and both demand reliable and consistent quality control, in a remote and accessible way.
Our View of the Market in 2020
These challenges are exactly what we’ve seen happen throughout 2020, and they have validated the approach that we’ve taken over the past few years, as we’ve been working to build Clarifruit from the ground up. Like many industries, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, and proven to even the most traditional of stakeholders that they want to be able to pre-confirm the quality of a shipment, ahead of time, using automation.
At the start of the pandemic, we saw customers flailing, having sometimes lost as much as 60% of their human capital, and unsure how to maintain business continuity. However, by June, it was clear that the industry at large was looking for ways to digitize quality control, from inspectors and regulators, to retailers, marketing companies, and growers.
We can see that this transformation is a real part of the ‘new normal’. After all, while companies may be initially drawn to digital platforms to beat the challenges of the pandemic, the results of digitizing are evergreen, including higher productivity, better visibility, data-informed decision making and less waste.
Despite the adversity, we are so proud of what Clarifruit has achieved this year, supporting so many players in revolutionizing the fresh produce quality control industry. We’ve brought on new clients including Tier 1 retailers from EMEA as well as growers & marketing companies who are category leaders within their business. Moreover, we have onboarded all of those new customers and implemented a new QC platform into their workflow, in a completely remote way. This model will stay with us post COVID-19 and allow us to scale our solution globally much more efficiently.
What’s Next for 2021?
Now that we’ve hit our stride, we aren’t planning on slowing down any time soon! On the product side, you’ll see a significant expansion in the number of produce categories offered on the app, and we’ll be augmenting and deepening the automation capabilities for existing produce, too. We’re excited to be working on offering our customers more control over the platform in 2021, allowing for self-service customization over inspection protocols and quality standards in a really intuitive way.
On the business side, we’re ready to scale. This year, we will be adding a local team to North America, to add to our existing presence in Latin America and Europe, and we’ll be expanding our penetration to other market segments. More to come soon!
If you’re looking to add automation and intelligence to the way you manage fresh produce quality control, we should talk.