How processors are handling demand surges caused by COVID-19
Companies respond to meet unprecedented demand during the coronavirus pandemic
An unprecedented surge in demand has processors working to meet needs while protecting workers and their supply chains.
Although some store shelves might look bare, the FDA reports that there is no shortage of food.
According to Frank Yiannas, MPH, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the FDA, based on the agency’s ongoing communication with industry, “We understand this is largely an issue of unprecedented demand—not a lack of capacity to produce, process and deliver—and manufacturers and retailers alike are working around the clock to replenish shelves.”
Take Tyson Foods, for instance. Dean Banks, president and director at the food giant, says, “We take our role to feed the world very seriously. That’s why we’re committed to ensuring the continuity of our business and the availability of our products to consumers across the nation. We’re shifting some of our chicken, beef and pork production from foodservice to meet the surge in demand for retail food products.”
Banks echoes the FDA, saying, “The food supply in the U.S. is more than sufficient and we’re taking a variety of measures to meet the shifting increase in demand now, and to ensure a steady supply moving forward. There is plenty of food available. We are working closely with our retailer partners to ensure our products are on their shelves, so that you have what you need to feed your family.”
With more than 100 food production plants in the U.S., Tyson’s unique scale allows the company to quickly adjust and meet the current demand at grocery and other retail stores.
“We’re working collaboratively with our customers to fill and ship orders as rapidly as possible. In some cases, our capability to shift processes in individual plants is allowing us to quickly pivot to producing retail items. For example, changing packaging from a foodservice product to a retail product can occur quickly because of the built-in flexibility of our operations,” Banks says. While Tyson has made moves like this before, this is the most significant shift they have ever initiated.
Another heavy hitter in the industry, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., announced last week that during the pandemic it would continue to deliver an uninterrupted supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We are proud of the role we are playing to keep the world fed, and the 43,000 members of the global Fresh Del Monte Produce family remain committed to meet this very important objective,” says Youssef Zakharia, the company’s president.
Fresh Del Monte Produce reports it has taken numerous steps to date aimed at navigating this challenging global situation, supporting its employees, and ensuring business continuity, including:
- Since the emergence of the pandemic, Fresh Del Monte Produce has activated its Global Executive Crisis Management team and regional response teams so that it can continuously stay abreast of the situation and communicate the latest developments, proactively monitoring and adjusting business processes and procedures as necessary to ensure business continuity.
- Production facilities remain open in those locations where permitted. To increase social distancing, steps have been taken to reduce the number of employees in farm locations, packing houses, port operations and production facilities, while ensuring business continuity.
- In addition to strict good manufacturing policies, Fresh Del Monte Produce has increased its cleaning cycles in its facilities, protecting against pathogen cross-contamination and worker-to-worker spread. These include monitored handwashing practices and sanitization requirements. Any employees showing signs of illness are immediately segregated from the workforce and monitored before being allowed to return. Although these practices were in place already as regular practice, they have been instrumental in helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
- The company has activated its supply chain contingency plans to avoid any ongoing disruptions with respect to its ability to service its customers.
Fresh Del Monte Produce says it has been fortunate to receive incredible support from its employees, who remain committed to maintaining strict safety standards while ensuring that its valued customers can continue to provide quality food. As this crisis evolves, Fresh Del Monte Produce says they will continue to stay resilient and nimble, ensuring that everyone does what they must to stay healthy and safe.
Another food giant, Hormel Foods, has taken action to protect its global workforce of 20,000 team members and stakeholders during the outbreak. The company reports that since COVID-19 was first identified in China, the company has been following all current CDC and WHO guidance and taking appropriate steps in business planning and continuity.
Jim Snee, chairman of the board, president and CEO at Hormel Foods, says, “First and foremost, I want to recognize our incredible team of production professionals who have risen to the challenge. With a sense of responsibility and pride, they continue to produce food for millions of people who are in the midst of this crisis.” Snee goes on to say that they understand the critical role Hormel Foods plays in providing safe and high-quality food to people around the world. “We have a responsibility to ensure our products are available when needed, and we are working closely with our retail and foodservice customers to provide a steady supply of all our products, just as we have done over the last 129 years.”
The company reports a strong demand for its branded products across all retail categories; notably, its Spam family of products, Skippy peanut butter products, Hormel chili, Hormel Compleats microwave meals, Jennie-O turkey products, Hormel pepperoni, Hormel Black Label bacon, Hormel Gatherings party trays, Hormel Natural Choice lunchmeats, Dinty Moore beef stew and Applegate products are all experiencing strong demand.
“We know the foodservice industry is facing tremendous challenges, and we are positioned to help distributors and operators through this difficult time,” says Snee. “Our dedicated salesforce is working to deliver innovative products and solutions to meet the changing dynamics in this industry. Our manufacturing facilities continue to operate normally. I am particularly proud of the dedicated professionals across our entire supply chain who are working tirelessly to meet the needs of our customers, consumers and operators.”
Smaller companies are also doing their part to ensure that consumers are getting the nutrition needed from the food supply. Marron Foods, makers of Milkman milk, reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has rekindled the same public need for a shelf stable dry powdered milk that was ignited by World War II in the 1940s.
“America needs the assurance of reliable, high quality nutrition, with a long shelf life for any unforeseen situation. That need extends to people worldwide in today's global economy facing critical health issues,” states a press release issued by the company last week. Marron Foods reports that it has been able to scale up fulfillment efforts thanks to the working residents of Durand, Wis.
Another Wisconsin business, Just The Cheese, is a small, family-owned company with deep roots in rural Wisconsin. Based in Reeseville (population about 500), the company says it prides itself on helping support the economic base of the town and employing 250 residents.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Just the Cheese reports that its workers were naturally concerned about coming to work but also relied on a steady paycheck. With employees scrambling in light of school closings and other major life disruptions, Just the Cheese has added flexibility to its production schedule, instituted added sanitization protocols, and, above anything else, wants to make sure that its employees have a job to go to.
One of the ways they’re doing that is by continuing to purchase milk from dairy farmers to help ensure that they have a revenue stream. They’re also striving to fulfill orders and keep up with spiking demand in a timely manner—as a one-of-a-kind, shelf-stable single-ingredient cheese bar, people are ordering more for fear that items will run out as the pandemic continues. Despite the surging demand for their cheese products, Just the Cheese says they have not—and will not—raise their prices.
“Everyone here is relieved that they have a job and are proud to make sure our customers have cheese to eat, and to help our local farmers by making sure they have a buyer for their milk,” says David Scharfman, owner and general manager. “Uncertainty is stressful for everyone, so our job is to manage that uncertainty as best we can for our team.”
The company reports it is striving to run at full capacity and thanks to efforts of the team have been able to do so—it just shipped 20 pallets of product to Amazon last week. It is also sending any excess product to food banks and hospitals, where a shelf-stable cheese snack is welcome.
Internally, in addition to adding more sanitization procedures to their already rigorous cleanliness protocol, they have instituted policies to reduce the likelihood of infection, such as:
- No more visitors to the plant.
- No retail sales at the factory.
- Working remotely where/when possible.
Certified Piedmontese—a Lincoln, Nebraska-based beef company—is increasing its ground beef production and offerings to boxed beef and online customers in order to serve those who are struggling to keep product on hand. For retailers and restaurants now offering grab-and-go services, Certified Piedmontese offers a variety of ground beef products including 85% lean ground, 96% lean ground, and 80% grass fed, grass finished ground. Interested parties can also take advantage of fresh or frozen one- and five-pound ground beef bricks. Pre-formed patty options range from 2-ounce sliders and 6-ounce patties to 4- and 8-ounce homestyle patties.
“We’ve been monitoring the epidemic closely here at Certified Piedmontese, and we understand the demand for beef is stronger than ever,” says Billy Swain, director of sales development. “Expanded product offerings and increased production will allow Certified Piedmontese to help accommodate the current need for high-quality beef in the U.S.”
The company has also expanded its direct-to-consumer offerings at Piedmontese.com. In addition to steaks, roasts, gift boxes and more, the company reports it has an ample supply of frozen ground beef and pre-formed patties.
Regarding COVID-19, the company says it values its customers and is working hard to fulfill Piedmontese.com orders as quickly as possible. Due to recent demand, processing and shipping may take longer than usual for a small number of orders, meaning it’s possible, but not likely, customers may not receive orders within the standard 2-day time frame. The company reports it guarantees orders will be fulfilled no later than the week after they are submitted.
Other food companies, whose products are more seasonal, have opted to suspend production. Take Just Born Quality Confections, for example. In a press release issued last week, the company reports that as a third-generation family owned business since 1923, “the well-being of our associates, community, customers and business partners is of the utmost importance to us. In response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, we are temporarily suspending production at our facilities in Bethlehem and Philadelphia, Pa.” The company reports that their internal task force for COVID-19 continues to regularly monitor the domestic and worldwide impact of the virus and is following recommendations from the CDC, local and state health and government authorities and WHO.
The company also reports that their Peeps candies already had been produced and shipped to retailers for this upcoming Easter season. The press release adds that they do have inventory of Mike And Ike, Hot Tamales and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews for the short term but may experience out of stocks on several individual items. “We will continue to work with our retail partners to ensure that the fans of our brands can continue to enjoy them during this challenging time,” the press release states.
Other companies are finding ways to help food and beverage processors to disinfect and help companies with containment and control.
As increased fears and uncertainty about COVID-19 continue to spread throughout the country, Rentokil announced a new service to meet the growing need of disinfection in businesses. The disinfection service is designed to protect employees and customers from the transmission of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold, and help businesses maintain the highest level of hygiene during this time of increased concern for public health.
Certified specialists use ultra-volume (ULV) disinfection foggers to disperse disinfectant, which is environmentally friendly and hypoallergenic. The foggers create small disinfectant droplets, which treat surfaces, such as floors, handrails and doorknobs, and large areas in a short timeframe. The treatment inactivates pathogens in 10 minutes, and customers can be back on site 30 minutes after treatment.
“As many of our commercial customers remain in operation to serve the public in this unprecedented time in history, they understandably have concerns about keeping their staff and customers safe,” says John Myers, Rentokil’s president and CEO. “Our mission is to protect people and enhance lives, and we developed this service to help businesses disinfect safely, quickly and efficiently.”
The formula is approved by both the EPA and the FDA and contains no harsh fumes. The service should be conducted when there are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, mold issues or other major contamination incidents on site.
“We want to be able to arm customers with the peace of mind of a safe and healthy work environment,” says Myers. “The disinfection service will help businesses reduce risk in this uncertain time and turn their focus back on their operations.”