Unsold Truffles Tell Tale of Broken $3.4 Trillion Food Chain


Every year, John Gregson sells his autumn and winter truffles, carefully sourced from places like Italy’s Sibillini mountains and Teruel in eastern Spain, to restaurants for as much as 6,000 pounds ($7,400) a kilo. Not this year. His biggest restaurant customers brought their shutters down during the coronavirus lockdown, and many may not be raising them anytime soon — if ever. The unprecedented disruption in the food chain, with worst-case estimates showing 80% of restaurants going bust in some parts of the world, is leaving people like Gregson grappling with an industry that may take years to untangle itself. “Those orders came mostly from Michelin-star restaurants,” said Gregson​, head of U.K. wholesale deals at TruffleHunter Ltd. “It’s now a question of whether those restaurants will be around come autumn and winter when those truffles come into season.” From truffles to cheeses and steaks to seafood, the providers of ingredients that go into everything from a pasta al tartufo to a London broil are confronting an existential crisis in the $3.4 trillion global food services industry. With demand evaporating almost overnight, suppliers have been forced to bin their produce or transform. Many now face the quandary of whether to hold out for a post-lockdown recovery or to move to a new business model, and perhaps even a new produce.


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