Uncertainty and the unknown have become the world’s reality, as we collectively face COVID-19. Each day brings new information and changes, seemingly shifting the daily course of action for companies as well as people. While so many businesses have been impacted by the virus, the food industry, especially, has seen significant changes and concerns arise. Consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brands, the marketplace, restaurants, grocery stores and supply chains are all operating at a different pace and at a different capacity than just weeks ago.
But the fact is, business is still running for many.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that food manufacturing employees and their supplier companies are essential and should remain operational during this time. This includes those employed in food processing facilities, beverage production facilities, and the production of food packaging during COVID-19. This is positive news for food brands of all sizes, as well as the suppliers and manufacturers supporting them.
In an effort to prevent disruptions in the food chain, the FPA also issued a temporary policy on March 17th for FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) supplier verification onsite audit requirements during this time.
Whether business has slowed down or ramped up, we know that these are very unusual times. As you go about daily operations as a food brand, there are some key things to consider as you weather the COVID-19 storm.
Prioritize Employee Safety During COVID-19
Evaluate your risk mitigation plan for employees to be sure you are in compliance. Assure your employees that you are taking this situation seriously and explain what specific steps you are taking to keep them safe. Need any help knowing what you should be doing? You can reference this guide from the CDC about workplace safety.
Closely Follow the CDC and FDA
Because everyone is concerned about safety and health measures right now, it’s important to assure your customers that you are taking all necessary food safety measures to keep your products, plant or prep space, and ultimately your customers safe. Consider sending a letter, email, issuing a public statement, and even a social media post to ensure that your customers know that you are following guidance from the CDC and other prominent agencies. Be sure to communicate that food is safe.
Right now, there is concern about the virus living on surfaces, including food, but, according to the FDA, there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Send a message to your customer base assuring them of this.
You can find all relevant information and guidelines at the FDA’s, and CDC’s websites. Be sure to outline what steps you are taking to minimize any exposure – this will help give your customers peace of mind. Have questions? Check out the FDA’s FAQs here.
Communicate With Your Customers on Social Media
Actively stay in communication with your customers via social media. This is a great opportunity to stay in front of your customers and build, or maintain, a relationship. With limited opportunities to meet together in person, social media is bringing people together in a significant way. Through social media channels you can communicate with customers what you are doing to ensure their safety, send updates on order fulfillment, and reassure them of your commitment to them during this time. For example, share your COVID-19 business plan, which products are available online, delivery options and pricing, and any product specials or community involvement your brand is participating in.
Sell Your Products Online
If your supply chain can support it, now is a great time to start selling your products online. Many local brands and stores are offering their products online in light of the many brick and mortar specialty retailers closing and limited availability in grocery stores. Not to mention, many shoppers are preferring to ship products to their house to avoid a trip to the store. If it’s possible, this is a great way to keep selling your product and stay in front of your customers. If you don’t have an online store, and you have some downtime, consider if now is the time to develop one.
Shop Small + Local
Communicate the importance of supporting other small and locally owned businesses. Right now, there is no doubt that the U.S. economy is suffering, and small businesses around the world are doing what they can to stay afloat. In your customer messaging, include how supporting local businesses can help right now. Also, consider how you can help other, local businesses that may be suffering financial loss during this crisis. This can be as simple as sharing other brands’ posts on social media, connecting with a handful of other companies and doing a giveaway, or purchasing from other local businesses.
Take Advantage of Suppliers Offering Low Minimum Orders
Depending on where your brand is at financially, you may be seeking to order from your suppliers in smaller quantities than normal. Buying supplies, ingredients, raw materials, packaging, etc on an as-needed basis will let you keep more cash flow in the business and keep inventory low. Reach out to your current suppliers to see if they are offering low minimums during this time, or consider working with new suppliers who have low minimums.
Give Back, Where + When You Can
Because people are really at the core of every business, if you are in a position where you can help, consider giving back to the community in some way during this time. Of course, do so only if it’s feasible and makes sense for your brand. You may have noticed that many brands are donating food or funds to families in need due to school closures, donating snacks and meals to medical staff working overtime, and to employees at the essential businesses that are remaining open, like grocery stores, shipping companies like FedEx, and food manufacturers. This is an unusual time and any way that we as business owners can help people is a positive gain for the entire world.
Ask For Help
Get the help that you need. This time of uncertainty is affecting so many businesses differently. If your business is struggling, explore how government programs already announced, or that are in progress, might be able to help. (Don’t be ashamed. If the big banks can take help during a crisis, so can you). Dig into if you are eligible for small business assistance here.
We’re All in This Together
Above all, try to remain calm and know that this is uncharted territory for each and every business owner, employee, neighbor, and family member. You are not going through this alone. Businesses in almost every industry have seen changes in operations and their finances during this time. Globally, people, and companies, are making big changes to their daily lives. We at ePac are committed to our communities and customers, if there is any way in which we can help you during this time please let us know!
Let’s each take it one day at a time.