United Fresh Produce Association Discusses USDA's New "Buy Fresh" Program
- by Chandler James
WASHINGTON, DC - Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a landmark initiative to support the produce industry. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) detailed plans to launch a new “Buy Fresh” program in response to challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, pledging to purchase $100 million worth of fresh produce per month from regional and local distributors.
This program is a direct result of the United Fresh Produce Association’s efforts since its initial letter to the USDA on March 20 encouraging the development of a purchasing program that would provide financial relief for the fresh produce industry. United Fresh encouraged its members to apply to the program and attend USDA’s corresponding webinar that took place on Tuesday, April 21. To find out more about this monumental opportunity, I recently linked up with United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel.
“A hundred million dollars a month is a significant amount of money. It's going to help many of the distributors, particularly those who don't have restaurant business right now,” he began. “At the same time, the food banks need fresh produce. Through this program, the distributor will get paid to repackage product and deliver it in more user-friendly ways to food banks.”
In the webinar, the USDA announced that on April 24 it plans to accept proposals and allow the suppliers to select which non-profit organizations they will distribute commodity boxes to on a mutually agreeable, recurring schedule. The awards are expected to be announced by May 8, and the program fully operational by May 15.
“We've talked with many of our suppliers about the program,” Tom told me. “Strawberry shippers, for example, have tons of product, and it's hard to move everything through retail alone. This program will facilitate the purchase of fresh produce and subsequent distribution to food banks. People in need don't just need canned food and dry goods. For them to get a couple of pints of fresh strawberries, what a joy. Hopefully, this kind of program can help everybody moving forward.”
Regarding fresh fruit and vegetables boxes, the USDA has outlined the following:
- Products and processing must be of domestic origin
- Consumer-friendly packaging required (but does not need to be retail packs)
- Awardees must identify and manage relationships with food banks and non-profits and come up with mutually agreeable delivery and box type terms
- Contracts will be issued in seven regions (Mid-Atlantic, Mountain, Mountain Plains, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Western) and proposals can be submitted for multiple or partial regions
According to a press release, full requirements and specifications will be available on April 24. In conclusion, Tom took a moment to recognize the hard-working individuals on the front lines of this pandemic.
“As always, we thank the people who are out there growing, harvesting, packing, and delivering, and the folks at the grocery stores who are stocking the shelves. A lot of us are back at home and kind of closeted away, but those folks are still out there bringing food to the American public, so we really do appreciate it,” he said.
United Fresh also hosted an informational webinar today, April 23, for the industry to better understand the process that USDA AMS will implement in its Coronavirus Food Assistance (CFAP) Purchase and Distribution Program.
Stay tuned in to reports from AndNowUKnow as we await more news on the USDA’s historic “Buy Fresh” program.