Coronavirus sun behind clouds

Finding a Silver Lining in the COVID-19 Cloud

Denis Storey
March 27, 2020

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There’s an old curse that reads, “May you live in interesting times.” We’re enduring that, with each new day ushering in new COVID-19 cases, the supply chain stretched then, and stock markets switched moods faster than a teenager.

Interesting is certainly one word for it. But the news isn’t all bad.

Food Industry Answers the Call

The food and agriculture industry is responsible for “about one-fifth of the country’s economic activity, directly supporting over 23 million jobs; that equals nearly 15% of US employment,” according to “Feeding the Economy,” a report commission by a coalition of more than 20 industry stakeholders.

And consumers appreciate it: “About 97% of Americans consider the workers producing and delivering high-demand goods like cleaning supplies, personal care products, food and beverage staples essential to fighting coronavirus,” according to the Consumer Brands Association. The federal government agreed, with Homeland Security officially recognizing their roles as essential during this crisis.

This 24/7 business has stepped up in a big way in the wake of this pandemic. Nielsen Co. data showed that during the week ending March 14:

  • Dry beans sales were up 230.5%.

  • Canned black beans sales jumped 150.4%.

  • Soup sales soared 126.6%.

  • Potato chips sales rose 29.6%.

  • Ice cream sales increased by 23.1%.

And this doesn’t even address the run on cleaning products, notably bleach, rubbing alcohol, and toilet paper.

Last week, the Food Industry Association (FMI) unveiled a partnership with the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) to connect foodservice distributors with excess capacity (products, transportation services, warehousing services) to assist food retailers and wholesalers who need additional resources.

“Our industries are both committed to the safe delivery of food to consumers. We’re equipped to provide service during this critical time in our country,” IFDA President and CEO Mark Allen said. “This partnership makes sense, and it is in these times of turmoil that we must step up and fill the gaps when we can to help each other where we can.”

FMI is also working with states on granting weight waivers for heavier loads while negotiating greater flexibility with the hour requirements on drivers. Manufacturers are also exploring options such as reduced packaging so retailers can get the product off the pallets and onto store shelves more quickly.

Corporate Help

Unilever announced that they’re donating more than $100 million worth of soap, sanitizers, bleach, and food to consumers. The CPG giant is also tweaking its manufacturing lines to churn out sanitizer for use in hospitals, schools, and other critical institutions.

They’re not stopping there. Unilever also announced that it’s pitching in to help struggling its supply chain partners, with more than $500 million in early payments to small and mid-sized suppliers, and extending lines of credit to its smaller retail customers.

Finally, the company is also extending pay for its employees and contractors for up to three months.

“We hope that our donation of €100m of soap, sanitizer, bleach, and food will make a significant contribution towards protecting people’s lives and that by helping to safeguard our workers’ incomes and jobs, we are giving some peace of mind during these uncertain times,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in announcing the plan. “Our strong cash flow and balance sheet mean that we can, and should, give this additional support.”

Proctor and Gamble announced a similar effort, pledging “more than $5 million in cash and product donations, including distribution of toothbrushes, diapers, and deodorant to at-risk communities.” The company is also providing medical gear to healthcare professionals.

Interesting times like this often bring out the worst in people, and all too often, those are the only stories we hear. But times like this can also bring out the best in us. And those stories don’t just need to be told. They need to be shouted from the rooftops.