As food and beverage processors navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, their major concerns are turning toward personal safety and the current economy.

Clear Seas Research, a BNP Media company, has been surveying food and beverage processors over the last couple weeks to gauge their major concerns during the pandemic. Here’s a look at some of their findings.

Top-level concerns

The most common concerns listed by respondents were the current economy (80%), as well as achieving business goals over the next three months, six months and business stability for the next 12 months. More than half (53%) are concerned about supply chain challenges.

But the economic concerns are somewhat mitigated by their own companies’ current situation, with 60% saying active business is on schedule and 53% saying planned business is on schedule. In both cases, about 20% of respondents say active business or planned business is canceled, while 19% say active business is delayed and 27% say planned business is delayed.

Where the economic concerns are most notable is changes to new business development and business spending. About 63% of respondents say that new business development activity, such as product innovation, has declined, while almost two-thirds (66%) say spending has declined.

Personal, family and worker safety

While just less than half (49%) of respondents are worried about personally being infected with COVID-19, almost three-fourths (72%) are worried about friends or family. Less than half (45%) are worried about employees not showing up for work.

Food and beverage processors are classified as essential businesses, so most of them remain open and have had to increase production to meet a sustained surge in demand. But a recent trend of processing plants having to shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks has processors focusing on worker safety to keep operations up and running.

There are a number of strategies being used to keep workers safe, in line with FDA guidelines. The most common is promoting social distancing, which 89% of respondents say is being used at their facilities. It’s followed by encouraging handwashing (83%).

Processors are also cutting back on meetings and travel. More than three quarters (76%) say they have reduced or eliminated face-to-face meetings, while 74% say they’ve eliminated vendor and customer visits. Reducing travel is also a common strategy, with 72% of respondents saying their company has done that.

Communication and workforce changes

Effective communication with workers and customers is a key for processors. The most common tool for doing so is email, with 81% of respondents saying their company uses it to communicate with workers, while 79% say they use it to communicate with customers. The most common messages in advertising are “to communicate our availability during this time” (39%) and “to share how we are protecting the health and safety of employees and customers” (38%).

As for workforce changes, a majority expect no changes (29%) or to hire new employees (22%). A little less than a fifth (18%) of respondents anticipate layoffs.

Clear Seas Research. 2020 Food & Beverage Mfg. Industry Perspective — Week of 4/6/2020, April 2020. 

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