By Jim Whitt, Contributing Editor

If we’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that we are a nation populated with people who have extremely different viewpoints. But we discovered there is one thing everyone can agree on — toilet paper! When the pandemic hit last year, who would have guessed that toilet paper was the item consumers coveted most?

In addition to hoarding toilet paper, consumers started stockpiling food at the beginning of the pandemic. They also changed their buying habits. They made fewer trips to the grocery store, and bought more groceries online and had them delivered. According to the Deloitte fresh-food consumer survey 2020, more than half of the respondents stopped buying fresh food altogether and started buying frozen or processed products exclusively. Imagine the impact this will have on the beef industry if this trend continues.

The pandemic provided us with other valuable lessons in supply-chain economics. The same consumers who buy toilet paper used to eat out in restaurants. The restaurant industry was hard hit by the pandemic and continues to suffer. The demand shift from restaurants to retail created a disruption in the market. The market was also disrupted when the packing and processing workforce was decimated by COVID quarantines. Ultimately these disruptions impacted the entire supply chain.

What is yet to be determined is the long-term effect this will have on the restaurant industry. According to experts, more than half of the restaurants that were in business in 2020 won’t survive. And the makeup of that industry will also change dramatically. Independently owned eateries will be the least likely to stay in business. Chains will dominate what’s left of the market. Menus will be reengineered. Fast food, carryout and delivery will continue to increase. Eating out could become a luxury.

Then there is the political impact to consider. At the beginning of 2020, Donald Trump looked to be a sure bet for a second term. Then the pandemic, protests, rioting, looting and a multitude of other factors helped create the perfect political storm. After a tumultuous election, the Democrats pulled a trifecta and now control the house, the senate and the presidency. What impact will this have?

Will 2021 bring more regulations? Higher taxes? Or maybe even a meat tax to combat climate change?

Will the socialist movement threaten free markets?

Will the media censor positive news about beef production? Will social media platforms ban posts that promote beef? Could the beef industry become a victim of the cancel culture?

Will markets be disrupted by more protests and riots?

We don’t know what’s in store for 2021. Can we stand any more adversity?

“Within every adversity lies the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit,” wrote Napoleon Hill in his bestselling book, Think and Grow Rich. What possible benefit could there be in all the adversity we’ve experienced in the last year?

For the beef industry, adversity could be the catalyst to build stronger and more mutually beneficial relationships within and between all segments of the supply chain in 2021. The shift in demand and consumer preferences will create opportunities for new products. Consumer education, public relations and advertising will be needed to promote those products. The Beef Checkoff is more critical now than it has been in its first 35 years of existence.

Industry trade associations will have to collaborate and be even stronger advocates for their members. They will have to be catalysts for cooperation, change and innovation. This will be challenging because the beef industry is no different than the rest of the population in this respect – it is populated with people who have extremely different viewpoints.

Bridging the gaps between those viewpoints requires a willingness to think outside-in instead of inside-out. We naturally think inside-out because we see the world through our eyes. Therefore, our viewpoint is not only the most important viewpoint, it’s the only viewpoint. We’re like a horse wearing blinders. We see only a small part of a much bigger picture. When we think outside-in we see our world through other’s eyes. And that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Article is sponsored by Kemin