Pandemic presents challenges and opportunities for food and ag businesses

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Jason Morse
Elizabeth Mozer
Kate Greenberg

Even as COVID-19 posed challenges for food and agricultural businesses in Colorado, the pandemic brought opportunities for businesses willing to adapt and even improve operations.

“It taught me how to run a better business,” said Jason Morse, an executive chef who operates 5280 Culinary, a food manufacturing and consulting business based in Denver.

 Listening to customers and finding out what they want remains crucial, said Elizabeth Mozer, founder and chief executive officer of LoCo Food Distribution in Fort Collins.

The state government can help in addressing supply chain problems and promoting the agricultural sector, said Kate Greenberg, Colorado commissioner of agriculture.

Morse, Mozer and Greenberg discussed a variety of issues and answered a range of questions during a virtual panel discussion hosted by Colorado Proud, a program of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

The pandemic forced 5280 Culinary to not so much pivot, but adapt, Morse said — to not only find ways to operate more efficiently, but also diversify by adding new services.

Founded more than a decade ago, 5280 Culinary sells spices, brines and others products in more than 3,000 locations nationwide. The firm also provides cooking services for special events as well as consulting services for food and beverage businesses.

Morse said part of his job includes helping agricultural businesses tell their stories and build their brands. The effort makes connections with consumers and dispels misconceptions about agricultural producers and what they do, he said. “Telling the story is crucial. It’s so important.”

The internet and social platforms offer one way to tell those stories, but so do events, he said.

LoCo handles wholesale food distribution from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. The company sells more 140 Colorado brands, Mozer said, including beverages and condiments as well as meats and seasonal produce.

Mozer said her company works with farmers, ranchers and manufacturers to help them reach wholesale buyers and expand distribution.  

When the pandemic closed restaurants to in-person dining last year, demand shifted to grocery stores and strained supply chains, Mozer said. At the same time, though, consumers became acquainted with more locally produced products as well as online shopping for groceries.

What hasn’t changed, Mozer said, is the importance for producers and small business owners to build relationships and find out what customers want. That includes not only products, but also packaging and pricing. “You need to be aware of what your wholesale buyers are looking for.”

Growers and small business owners just starting out should consider selling at farmers markets and first handle wholesale distribution on their own.

Greenberg said the Colorado Department of Agriculture had to respond to the emergencies of COVID-19 as well as address what at the onset of the pandemic were issues related to the supply chains for beef and other foods. The department subsequently has been working to promote the recovery of the ag industry.

She said she expects additional funding to be available to promote Colorado agricultural products as well as loans to help farmers, ranchers and processors. Part of a nationwide effort to rebuild infrastructure should include agricultural infrastructure.

The department will continue to support local food businesses regardless of the circumstances, she said. “We want to nurture that relationship without a global pandemic being the cause.”

To watch a recording of the virtual roundtable or obtain more information about the Colorado Proud program, visit the website at