As traditional outlets for CEA produce struggle in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., growers are looking at new ways to deliver their fruits and vegetables to consumers. In this year’s State of the Industry report, we found a myriad of changes not only in the way growers are selling, but in what they’re selling as well.

While some are seeing great opportunities in the increasing demand for local produce, others are struggling to find workers and fill the gaps left by their once-steady restaurant customers, who are on the front line of COVID-19’s impacts.

Berry production is on the rise and growers are diversifying their crops more than we’ve seen in the past five years. While lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers still top the charts, they no longer dominate the way they have in years past. Herbs are having their day in the sun, taking over as the third most popular edible crop.

Some of this change in demand, such as more people cooking at home, can be attributed to the coronavirus, but other shifts, like an increasing market for berries, is a trend we’ve seen coming before the pandemic.

The future may be cloudy right now, but one thing is for sure: Consumers are buying online. A full 15% of growers started selling online for the first time this year and direct-to-consumer sales are soaring. It’s a trend floriculture greenhouses and independent garden centers are seeing as well. The ease and simplicity of shopping online are huge draws and will continue to attract customers once the COVID pandemic is under control.

The good news is that it’s not too late to hop on the direct-to-consumer trend. While the coronavirus is pushing it to the forefront, it’s an outlet that consumers have wanted, and it looks like they’ll continue to buy straight from the grower in the coming years. Whether it’s CEA sign-ups, direct-to-door deliveries, subscription programs or the traditional farmers market, today’s consumers prefer to go directly to the source for products they can trust.

Building that trust and creating a lasting connection is something CEA growers can work on now, and for years to come no matter when the pandemic ends.

Kate Spirgen, Editor | kspirgen@gie.net | 216-393-0277