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Executive perspective: Export challenges for specialty foods + what future holds

An Interview with Mr. Richard Burright, President, Rio Del Mar Foods, Inc.
Responses are paraphrased.


TradeLanes: How has your business changed with covid-19?

Burright:  Overall, we have been fortunate because our products are mainstays. We’ve seen that the business has been slower in the past 45 days as customers at destination try to manage inventory and projected demand. There have been shutdowns of local business operations - travel, tourism, etc. in our destination markets.  The shutting-down of food service and entertainment venues has altered consumption patterns and cut into demand from those buyers who service those industries.


Do you think that your business will have changed for the better or worse in 3 years?

Burright:  For the better.  People want a varied diet. They might not be going out to restaurants in the volumes they were, but people are going to entertain at home… People are going to rediscover a lot of ways to use products at home; and that change will last.


What has been most disruptive to your export operations?

Burright:  For us, the biggest challenge has been the ability of our customers to conduct banking and logistics activities, including the processing of documentation.   In some cases, our customers have not had access to money because the local governments have locked down foreign exchange and/or restricted outgoing payments.   Courier services have been restricted, too.

Too bad they didn’t have TradeLanes to make your transaction paperless!!


Did you have any disruptions to the supply side?

Burright:  None. We were on the lookout for anything that could be disruptive to our supply as we decided whether to bring or not bring product forward for export.   Our suppliers have been great.

What changes will persist in your business after covid-19?

Burright:  For our business, the change will be as to how consumers partake in our product.  Volumes may decrease slightly because of reduced consumption at the foodservice level – consumption at restaurants, etc. – because I suspect that some of the consumption at the foodservice level was not really consumption – it was waste.  If these changes in consumption patterns result in less food waste, that is a good thing overall, but it could result in slightly less sales volume.

The good thing about business is business always finds a way to get it done.


Do you think there will be any changes to the industry in the future as a result of this shutdown?

Burright:  Companies will be more sensitive to the distribution of products and more cognizant of the possibility of delays. This kind of global shut-down could happen again, so we have to consider it as a new variable for planning. What if we can’t get raw ingredients? What if the ports close? What if our products get stuck in customs?

We need diversification in our supply chain, and definitely more updated contingency planning.


What advice or insights have occurred to after seeing the effects of covid-19 on the industry and what advice would you share with your peers?

Burright: A lot of companies were caught off guard with this disruption and suffered as a result. For example, there has been a focus – maybe even an obsession – with just-in-time inventory management over the past 20 years. That strategy makes a lot of sense for optimizing capital, but companies need to plan in different ways now. They need to carry more inventory. That will have an effect on capital requirements, but they need to prepare for these new types of disruption to the supply chain.

My advice is that we all need to be cognizant of these new potential disruptions, and prepare. We can’t assume that the next time something like this happens that things will be handled the same way.  If this – a pandemic - happens again, the shutdowns will likely be swifter and more severe. We need to be prepared for those eventualities.


Thanks to Richard Burright for giving us insights into his business at Rio Del Mar Foods!

Richard Burright is the President of Rio Del Mar Foods, a food broker that buys, sells, brokers, and exports dried fruits and nuts in bulk to the EU and Pacific Rim. Prior to starting Rio Del Mar in 2002, Burright had a storied career in food exports having worked at Premier Valley Foods, Dole, Tenneco, and Yorkshire Dried Fruits and Nuts in various sales and export roles.



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