Coronavirus pandemic: Food and beverage firms step up efforts to mitigate spread

WORLD – In the wake of the rapidly increasing numbers of reported coronavirus cases, food and beverage companies as well as retailers across various markets have been seen to coordinate their efforts to prevent the spread through implementation of enhanced protections of their employees.

The coronavirus outbreak, which was declared as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11th March 2020, has called for robust measures beyond basic actions like encouraging employees to intensify their personal hygiene practices.

Amidst this crisis, food and beverage companies and retailers definitely have a significant role to play towards ensuring that consumers have access to fresh and high quality foods as well as promoting their health and wellbeing.

This has seen companies – in this vulnerable but yet very important sectors – swiftly respond by instituting measures aimed at safeguarding their employees while at the same time ensuring business continuity during this challenging and unpredictable period.

Unilever CEO, Alan Jope recently announced a new set of measures further reflecting that humanity’s success in tackling coronavirus effectively is heavily dependent on the actions that organisations take over the next few days to help slow down its spread and avoid overloading health care systems.

Among the measures, Unilever has issued travel restrictions to its employees, put in place strict site protocols for hygiene and social distancing and further requiring all its office-based employees globally to work from home.

While these working arrangements changes will are expected to have a big impact, Alan Jope cautioned that “more than ever we need to stay calm, be resourceful, and do what we do best: focus on supporting each other, meeting the changing needs of our consumers, and on serving our customers.”

In addition, Orkla, the Norwegian branded consumer goods conglomerate, has also imposed strict procedures at its factories to prevent the spread of infection and ensure that the company is able to maintain high production capacity and of course in the interests of our employees.

“Until further notice, therefore, there will be no visits to factories, unless they are business-critical. We have an important role to play in supplying food, cleaning and hygiene products that people need now,” the company said in a statement.

Different governments have moved to apply various approaches including strict restrictions such as closing of certain public facilities while players in the retail industry have taken a different approach to the crisis.

In its response to the pandemic, Walmart has announced that it is cutting hours at its stores and the company’s Neighborhood Markets chain until further notice. While the retail giant operates about 4700 stores, the move affects 2,200 stores in the US.

Kroger has also slashed store hours at some of its locations. Announcing the update, the company said in a statement “this schedule change will allow our store teams to focus on stocking the fresh, affordable food and essentials that our customers are looking for when they walk in our stores.”

“The change will also allow even greater attention to cleaning our stores,” Kroger said in a release.

In India, which has now confirmed more than 80 cases of novel Coronavirus, foodtech unicorns – Swiggy and Zomato – have announced several safety measures in an effort to combat the novel coronavirus.

The online food and grocery retailers have announced contactless food delivery with Deepinder Goyal, Co-founder and CEO, Zomato insisting that the company is especially emphasising best practices of how to handle food packages to ensure safe, and hygienic delivery.

China’s top food delivery, Meituan Dianping, has started offering cardboard “shields” to prevent the spread of coronavirus when its customers dine in crowded spaces.

In the US, Grubhub and Seamless are also offering no-contact delivery options.

While manufactures and retailers continue to implement various measures, the outbreak is expected to significantly affect their revenues especially in markets such as China and Italy – the most affected countries so far.

Food systems experts, based on better understanding the linkages between food handling and human illness, have called for an urgent need on investments in healthy food systems for a safer world.

In what has been described as a major test for food delivery companies, retailers and manufacturers, the coronavirus outbreak poses a complex puzzle.

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