Precautions in factories and offices
As a food ingredients producer, the measures we’ve taken are manifold but revolve around two main pillars: social distancing and increased hygiene and protection.
To ensure social distancing, we have, amongst other things, changed shifts and rotations, re-arranged work areas in the factories (using plexiglass separations, coloured stickers on the floor, etc.), instigated home office working for all possible administrative roles and provided additional transportation for harvest workers.
To enable our staff to balance childcare, home schooling and work schedules, we have also worked with them to develop flexible working rotas and provided home office technology solutions where necessary. We’re pleased to say that all our teams have embraced this new way of working well.
Increased hygiene measures were introduced at a very early stage of the pandemic. We ensured that protective material was available (i.e. masks, gloves, antiseptic soap, etc.) and that everyone knew how to use it correctly, if they weren’t already familiar with the processes due to our standard hygiene training. From this time on, all our safety measures have been continuously communicated in a friendly but clear way.
Our team leaders, especially in the production functions, are well-trained and able to answer any team questions. This has ensured the provision of help where needed at a local level and the clear communication of safety measures, ensuring the health of all our employees and their families at home.
As a result of all these measures, BENEO’s absence rates remain at normal seasonal level. Only very few staff are in quarantine for their – or their family members – added safety.
The measures we have implemented at all five of our factories have been assessed by third party experts, such as health authorities or medical institutes. The overall feedback is that our safety measures are above standard expectations, which we believe will help to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading should we experience a case of infection.
Demand & supply
We have seen higher and more volatile demand during the pandemic. Like many other industries, we are dealing with some logistical challenges, such as fewer containers and reduced shift work at harbours. We have also needed a strong, combined team effort to coordinate harvesting and mitigate delays to planned production works. Under the circumstances, we are proud to still be a reliable supplier for all the ingredients we produce. We will of course continue to monitor the situation to help us anticipate any adjustments that may be needed.
So far, we have not seen any shortage affecting the procurement of raw materials. However, we have faced some challenges around the planned maintenance and engineering works in our factories. Due to the fact that third party companies were not allowed on our premises at the beginning of the crisis, these planned works have understandably been delayed. However, following the authorities’ latest decision to allow suppliers to the food chain to carry out necessary works, we have begun to catch up, although additional safety measures are slowing this progress a little.
The harvesting of chicory roots in Chile is a significant element in our supply chain. One issue we have faced here is that our harvest season began at virtually the same time the country went into lockdown as a result of the pandemic. However, despite this challenge, we are happy to say that things are currently running to plan thanks to the incredible efforts of our agronomy team in Chile. They have been focusing on safeguarding the social distancing of harvesting workers, not only on the field but also for their commute to and from work (which is traditionally done by the company). This has meant a much higher number of vans, the organisation of more drivers, the expansion of harvesting times to include early mornings and late nights, and much much more.
Of course, a situation like the coronavirus pandemic is difficult to prepare for. However, the fact that every production facility had a standard contingency plan in place which we have been able to adapt to this situation, and therefore implement swiftly, has certainly helped us in many respects. This ranged from stock and inventory management and how to keep the factory running with fewer people, to managing short falls in inbound and outbound logistics, etc.
With the crisis ever-evolving, we have experienced a higher demand overall, as well as significant deviations from original customer-planned volumes. However, thanks to the continous dialogue with our customers and internal flexibility, we have been able to adapt to ensure orders are fulfilled. This shift has required much higher levels of communication with our customers to ensure that demand and supply are continually coordinated, and we are very thankful for the strong relationships we have with our customers that allow this to happen.
A key learning for us is that swift alignment between stakeholders is essential to implementing the necessary measures quickly and effectively. The impact of the pandemic has been mitigated for our business by the quick agreement of various stakeholders on the best way to proceed, helping us to define, decide and take action promptly. For us, this has included monitoring the different national rules and respective regulations to allow us to develop strategies for both our local and global functions that we have been able to act on and adapt as needed. We have also benefited from having a defined crisis team at a global and local level. The way these teams are intertwined greatly reduces the effort required to align across the business, whilst maximising the effectiveness of the appropriate measures implemented.
A learning that goes beyond BENEO is that the pandemic has shown that the home-office is a viable way of working for many more functions than was previously thought. This flexible approach to working is one that we believe will be more widely used in the future.
Since we principally supply ingredients to food and drink producers for products that go into the retail sector, we estimate that the direct impact on our business will not be significant. However, the economic situation of other industries and whole nations will certainly have an impact on all of us. As unemployment rises, there will be less buying power and lower tax income for governments, which may affect our business and that of our customers in ways that we cannot yet see.
From a consumer perspective, topics such as immune health, staying fit and healthy are all front of mind at present and therefore broader issues such as gut health and weight management are also of increased interest to them. As a science-driven provider of functional ingredients that promote health and wellbeing, we are glad to see that the voices of scientists worldwide are being heard in in the public arena, and this in the longer-term can only be of benefit to consumers and the food chain alike.
‘what helps beyond the safety measures?’
Over the past 5-6 years, we have been continuously working to live up to our brand values. As in many organisations, these values now form the ‘glue’ between our functions, locations and hierarchies and are our long-term principles that consciously and unconsciously help us make decisions and guide how we communicate to the outside world. They offer a framework that our teams can use to raise concerns, tensions and ideas in the spirit of “making things better” and they also form a good basis from which to act, especially in times of a crisis. This BENEO-wide concept has helped the teams to stand together and quickly define what is needed and most useful at this present time. An additional attitude that we have benefitted from at BENEO is that we have developed a culture where our team leaders are open, transparent and accessible – enabling them to communicate well with their local teams, especially when things get tough.
This varies from customer to customer. Some of our partners continue to go full steam ahead with their innovation plans while others have had to pause certain projects for the time being.