Serbia: Corona business effects – the new normal

As the  COVID-19 pandemic is losing  its intensity in Serbia, people are all gradually getting back to normal. It is a “new normal” that we all need to adjust to. Amazing is what a shift of perspective can do to one’s attitude. In just couple of mounts we got accustomed to the situation that in any other circumstances it would have taken us years. Even in a sector so conventional as agriculture.

Close-up of a coronavirus.

The speed of the shift from traditional to e-markets was impressive. There were some doubts about the success of this initiative, but they turned out to be unfounded.

In April, at the peak of the pandemic in the country, the on-line purchases in retail stores and at the farmer’s e-market recorded more that 400% increase y-t-y. Some of the leading retail chains in the country like Ahold Delhaize, struggled with introduction of e-sales for years. Just in a few days at the beginning of the lock down the habit has been established. It is comfortable to buy groceries form the chair in a living room and get them delivered at a door step. So, the habit remained. The new challenge will be to improve logistics and arrange web sites in such a way to make them more client-friendly, easy to search, to pick and choose.

This pandemic also made us all aware of the importance of food security. From one side, it will definitely impact the length of supply chains and on the other hand, it will trigger farmers to improve their yields and quality of the products. This year’s strawberries season in Serbia was a “honey moon” for the majority of producers. Due to hampered international trade there were not may options for retailers. Fresh Serbian strawberries were on the shelves of the most food shops and retail chains in the country. This whole situation made the Serbian soft fruit farmers mature rapidly. They realize that by investing in technology they will be able to extend their season, increase their yields and reach an adequate price for their produce. The Dutch PIB project in the soft fruit sector in Serbia could not wish for a better start and launching of its activities.

More independent food chains from international trade are becoming a priority for most of the countries world-wide. Food sovereignty means improving your production conditions in order to become more self-sustainable. That can be done only by improving production knowledge and technology.

Unconventional circumstances call for alternative approaches.

Unfortunately, Serbia and the region of Western Balkan are more experienced with crisis situations than the rest of Europe. This is one of the reasons why these countries can adjust more easily to such situations. In challenging times one must question the accepted reality because things are not going in the right direction. The loss of well-established market paths made business people think in different ways. Regional initiatives that were progressing at the slow speed before, were picked up instantly and became daily practice immediately. The “Green corridors” were an example of a joint voice of the business community from the region of Western Balkans. Regional Chambers of Commerce through their network facilitated transport of goods through the region with up-dated, timely and relevant information.

This regional initiative is a good example and illustration of the necessity of the international cooperation. This pandemic thought us that we are all vulnerable and that we need to share and learn from each other in order to progress and combat any similar situation in the future.