Apr 15, 2020

The Food Manufacturer’s Guide to Handling the Coronavirus

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt families, healthcare, the economy, and more, the food industry is not exempt from feeling its effects. While the food industry is essential to our daily lives, and has been deemed as such, it is not “business as usual” within the supply chain. From trade shows being cancelled and thus interfering with new product launches and exposure to restaurants being limited to take out and delivery orders or even shutting down completely thus decreasing the demand for food manufacturers that deliver to the food service sector to shifting consumer behavior as consumers rely on food and beverages that are comforting and familiar as well as shelf-stable foods while simultaneously becoming unpredictable in their buying habits as they hoard toilet paper and bottled water to imports and exports being disrupted, business is anything but “usual” for food manufacturers. And, while all of these new variables are disruptive, they don’t even include the biggest threat of all: the health and safety of your employees. So, what can you do to adjust to these ever-growing concerns and abnormalities? We’ve rounded up the top three tips to stay strong and keep succeeding amid this unprecedented time.

1. Increase Safety Measures

The first step is to do your part in ensuring the health and safety of your employees. It’s probably obvious that allowing office-based staff to work from home and prohibiting non-essential travel top the list – but have you considered increasing the requirements to come into your facility beyond just your employees, such as vendors and visitors who may have a legitimate business reason to visit? For example, you can implement the expectation for employees, vendors and visitors alike to get their temperature taken, partake in observed hand washing, and confirm they haven’t been exposed to someone with COVID-19 before entering.

In addition to reducing the number of people in your facility, you should also focus on increasing the proximity of people that are there. For example, you may be able to implement shift differentials, made more feasible by slowed manufacturing lines and stretched production times. Additionally, you can place tape on the ground, just as grocery stores have begun doing, to visually indicate the 6-foot distance people should be abiding to according to the social distancing mandate. Unfortunately, there may be parts of your production environment that make it impossible to adhere to social distancing, in these circumstances, you can consider installing tarps, barriers, even walls between workstations.

Finally, for the employees coming into your facility you need to heighten your hygiene and sanitation efforts in order to reduce the risk of outbreak. For instance, some manufacturers are wiping down surfaces once an hour. For complete guidance on how to properly sanitize your space, check out the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) guide to Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities.

2. Improve Efficiencies & Streamline Business Processes

Although food suppliers have been deemed essential and directed by the FDA that they are “considered a critical infrastructure sector and should not be shut down,” that doesn’t mean that all your personnel have also been deemed essential. So, with less people on the front lines, you may need to compensate for the lost manpower. This means making sure your business is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Maybe this means switching to software built for your industry so you can reduce the number of systems you’re juggling. With a single system like NorthScope that integrates all parts of your business, you can reduce the number of steps necessary to complete a process and get complete transparency into your product’s cycle to see where improvements can be made. Having the right software can be essential in responding accurately and effectively in a crisis. But, we understand that resources can be limited right now so we’re here to help when the time is right, even if that’s not now. (But if you’re ready now, so are we! Let’s schedule a demo to show you how we can help you succeed.)

Or, maybe making sure your business is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible means you adjust your focus to the now. And the now is calling for shelf-stable foods like canned goods, dried beans and rice, etc. As such, you may consider shifting your operations to focus on filling grocery supply needs instead of restaurants. Or, taking it a step further and focusing production on the specific types of products that are high in demand, such as frozen and shelf-stable packaged foods as food at a home is the priority for many consumers as schools and restaurants are closing down across the country and many previous commuters are now working from home.

3. Constantly Communicate With Your Supply Chain & Your Customers

There’s only so much you can do on your own. For instance, if you switch your focus to producing more canned and frozen fish as opposed to fresh but your fishermen can’t fish, then your production focus doesn’t matter because you don’t have supply. As such, you need to get as much visibility into your supply chain as possible to know what your suppliers have in stock and to know what the demand may be for the next 30-60 days. Your focus right now is on planning, not forecasting since the industry is so unpredictable right now and the future is uncertain.

Similar to your need to get visibility into your suppliers’ status, you need to be providing transparency to your customers. Customers are concerned these days with buying from a food source that’s safe – so tell your customers what you’re doing to be that source. Be clear about all of the safety measures you’ve implemented from step one to keep your demand from customers consistent while ensuring you have the supply. And, as new data, mandates, and guidelines come out, continue updating your customers about how you’re responding and adhering.

If you’ve found that you’re struggling to pivot to tackle these new challenges efficiently, schedule a demo to see how NorthScope and our team can help!