Any forward-looking predictions are beyond foolish right now, and I've proven that to myself with all the false-starts I've made with this column.
I began writing it last Monday, and each day has brought a new revision as the world (including myself) became more and more sober about exactly what is happening, and what may come.
None of us are sure, and with every browser refresh comes a new piece of information that we have to try to integrate into our rapidly changing world view.
So while the life-span of news and analysis appears to be shortening, it's safe to say that some long-term impacts from coronavirus are becoming clear, and it doesn't look good for anybody.
Seafood, which is reliant on consumer spending and the free flow of trade, is going to be hit hard in particular.
Will the industry stop? No. People need to eat, and seafood remains a crucial part of the food supply. Exactly how it gets to consumer plates, however, is going to be radically reshaped.
Here are nine shifts I think are here to stay.Reshoring
Seafood is coming home. I recently had the chance to speak with executives from some of the world's major seafood processing equipment manufacturers. All of them said they have had a massive uptick in inquiries about investing in equipment -- for plants and vessels -- in home markets.
Getting fish to buyers in a world where borders have been slammed closed means a complete rethink of how seafood gets processed, and companies will want and need more control.
The investments in domestic (or nearby) processing will not be temporary, and a new level of conservatism about supply chains will be here for a long time to come.China
Call this the flip side of reshoring. Coronavirus is accelerating a change that was already underway: the decreasing dependence on China as the world's seafood processor.
Ironically, China's draconian measures to contain the virus may have it recovering long before the rest of the world.
While that will have China's consumer economy returning to "normal" sooner than others, the shock to the global flow of goods will shake a lot of companies to their senses: it no longer makes sense to put all your processing eggs in one basket.
Who wins in that scenario? Other Asian and Eastern European countries will, but see point one: domestic producers will have to feel short-term investment pain to reap the long-term gains of more supply chain control.Online retailing
What was once an interesting niche for expanding sales in the West (China was already light years ahead) is going to become the norm.
Brick-and-mortar stores are in some cases experiencing a short-term uptick, but as Western minds marinate in the severity of the coronavirus crisis, online retailing is going to boom in an unprecedented way.
Once the supply chain begins to shift and consumers develop new online habits, they will never return to shopping in-store in the way they have.
This will mean, as my colleague Rachel Mutter recently pointed out, a massive overhaul in how seafood is sold as well, from packaging to messaging to product forms.Fresh seafood
Canned fish is having its moment in the sun. But if ever there were a short-term panic buy, it's canned tuna and salmon. Don't expect that trend to last.
Do expect major changes in fresh seafood. For starters, the wetfish seafood counters at retail could dramatically contract.
Foot traffic is already plummeting at retail. Perishables require turnover. And as germaphobia (rightly) spreads, consumers that do shop brick-and-mortar stores will be looking for a lot less people to touch their food along the value chain. That will mean the death knell for the seafood counter in its current format.
Pre-packed fish will continue to deliver people the freshness they desire from seafood, but in a more reassuring way.Foodservice
It's hard to overstate the impact that the global halt will have on the restaurant, hospitality and institutional sector. Individual and small-chain restaurants operating on small margins -- the lifeblood of European out-of-home dining -- are already hitting the wall.
Next will come the mid-sized chains. The cascade effect this will have on the Syscos and Sodexos will be enormous.
The real pain will be felt when major chains collapse -- and some will. Quick-service restaurants in the US were already on wobbly legs.
The majority of seafood in the west is eaten out of the home, with the US leading the pack. No diners, no seafood consumption.Domestic markets
Global trade has already been upended, and I'm certainly not the only one to think it's permanent.
Products in high demand, and I put seafood in that category, will always find a route to market. But at least for the short term, those markets will shift.
In particular, companies already hammering away at developing domestic markets will push even harder.
Whether its Alaska pollock producers or the world's salmon farmers, squeezing more out of home markets -- or at the very least neighboring markets -- will become even more important than ever before.
Done properly, companies will indeed be able to develop those domestic channels, which could help offset the loss in export sales. The shift inwards may even prompt companies to focus on value over volume for once.Land-based aquaculture
I've been among the most vocal cautioning against the over-exuberance for land-based aquaculture (salmon in particular).
There's no question that its a trend that won't go away; I simply question the flood of projects, the size of the production projections and the lack of expertise to make it all happen.
Well, that may change.
Suddenly, producing fish domestically has become a far more interesting proposition. The proximity to markets is now a major asset -- not simply a justification for lower shipment costs.Digitization
Any companies that failed to invest in digital tools -- from inventory to traceability systems to inter-company communications -- is realizing that they should never have put off spending their money on technology.
We will not be interacting face-to-face in the same way for a long time to come. Not just with our colleagues, but with clients as well (we still have no rescheduled date for Boston or Brussels).
Not only will we have to deal with distance, but we will also have to deal with the reality that changes in manufacturing overall will need to speed up. That fact will necessitate not just new ways of communication, but new ways of operating processing facilities, vessels and farms.
Automation won't be a nice to have -- it will be a must to stay in business. The AI revolution was already upon us -- it will accelerate.Consolidation
While you can expect a slowdown in the massive run of M&A we've seen in the past few years as appetites for risks wane, it won't stop completely, especially when companies sniff a recovery. However, a different kind of consolidation is about to happen at a high pace.
It's not the nice kind.
Many of the world's traders, packers and exporters touching product for a skinny slice of the margin won't be able to handle the financial pressures of the coming months, even with borrowing rates at zero. Their role in the supply chain will instead be picked up by well-backed behemoths who have the financial wherewithal to absorb the volatility. Vertical integration will be a necessity, not an option.
I have been wrong more times than I can count with predictions over the years. I sincerely hope I am again. But even if we all beat this thing back in the next six months, life and commerce for the seafood sector will indeed change forever -- that I am sure of.
How do you think coronavirus will change seafood long-term? I'm curious to hear your thoughts, so drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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