When J. Douglas​ Hines, chairman of Atlantic Natural Foods, not too long ago noticed the CEO of Nestlé warning staff of an upcoming storm due to the pandemic, he thought the chief should have been listening to his ideas as a result of he is been saying that for two months. 

“I’ve been in the food business over 40 years and we’ve never had this before. This is a global situation. This isn’t local; it’s not a hurricane or an earthquake. It’s a global crisis,” he instructed Food Dive.

Hines mentioned the shelf-stable producer of plant-based meals together with Loma Linda, Neat and Tuno manufacturers was carefully watching the novel coronavirus outbreak unfold throughout Asia and Europe, which helped put together the model for the elevated demand within the U.S. right this moment. Atlantic Natural Foods​ is headquartered in North Carolina, but additionally operates a producing facility and three way partnership venture in Thailand. ​

“I was telling my guys this is going to happen. Nobody believed me and my team. But we started beefing up our production,” he mentioned. In each the services in Thailand and North Carolina, the corporate started implementing extra time beyond regulation and larger sanitation pointers​. 

“We were able to make rapid adjustments from the learnings that we had in Thailand and Asia, in order to be able to implement those same types of standards here,” he mentioned. “I believe that gave us help, and we got almost four weeks incremental production up before anything happened.” 

“I’ve been in the food business over 40 years and we’ve never had this before. This is a global situation. This isn’t local, it’s not a hurricane or an earthquake. It’s a global crisis.”

J. Douglas Hines

Chairman, Atlantic Natural Foods

Hines mentioned a smaller firm like his can have a bonus in these conditions as a result of it could actually pivot sooner in adjusting to unprecedented environments than larger ones. 

“Where the big company CEOs are giving instructions out to the regional map, we’ve already made these changes. So that’s the true advantage that we do have. Your people understand it, and they’re all on board to make it successful,” he mentioned.

Despite its planning, Hines mentioned it’s a “true challenge” to maintain up with the excessive demand the corporate is seeing. Atlantic Natural Foods​ has skilled greater than 100% gross sales development for the reason that pandemic began. 

Sales blow up

As folks began self-isolating in March, states introduced shelter-at-home mandates and eating places within the U.S. moved to supply or takeout solely, shoppers who might usually eat out have shifting to do-it-yourself meals. The adjustments have pushed many to take a look at new elements of the grocery retailer and check out meals they could not have earlier than, he mentioned. 

“Now they’re out trying to secure products that they would normally have been eating on the outside,” he mentioned.

Analysts have predicted that consumption of shelf-stable and frozen packaged meals will quickly enhance through the pandemic, and up to now these expectations have come true. Sales of many meals shot upward within the 4 weeks ending on March 7, in response to Nielsen information. Fresh meat alternate options, for instance, elevated 206.4% in comparison with final yr.

All of the Atlantic Natural Foods’ manufacturers are plant-based and shelf-stable. Tuno provides a plant-based tuna different, whereas Loma Linda has canned vegetarian and meat analogue merchandise akin to chili, taco filling and pretend meatsThe manufacturers are bought all through the U.S and in 17 different international locations.

He mentioned on-line gross sales simply “blew through the roof” the final couple of weeks and in-store gross sales began to select up a couple of month in the past. Hines mentioned that most individuals sometimes store the sides for merchandise like ready-made meals, deli objects and produce. Now, nonetheless, they’ve moved again to the middle retailer for meals that may last more of their pantries as they hunker down for weeks at dwelling. 

“You’re getting a trial that you would not have before,” he mentioned. “People will try something different simply because you’ve eliminated some of their core when they go out to eat. A lot of people are not aware what’s even in center store, and so now they’re out there having to shop and look what’s there and see what’s inside the grocery section, what’s inside the health section, what’s inside the ethnic section.”

The manufacturers may be present in quite a lot of grocery shops nationwide, who’re shopping for extra of its merchandise now as consumers pantry inventory, together with retailers like Costco and Aldi.

“They accelerated their normal promotional periods up to where they want product on the shelf,” he mentioned. “Now we’re seeing Amazon as well, it’s just blown up.” In truth, a latest large order the corporate acquired from Amazon will probably be tough to satisfy, Hines famous. 

Hines thinks this development may gain advantage the corporate in the long run as a result of extra folks will acknowledge these manufacturers and probably have sampled them. Hines mentioned the corporate might see a couple of 10% to 20% enhance in total enterprise in consequence.

Preparing for demand amid coronavirus

In March, Atlantic Natural Foods mentioned in a press release that it’s complying with CDC pointers and taking further measures to guard its staff and manufacturing operations, together with proscribing entry to anybody who will not be an worker at its services. The firm carried out that coverage at its Thailand facility greater than 4 weeks in the past, and the observe proved profitable in serving to forestall the spread of the virus. 

“We have a part of our supply chain in Asia because we ship all over the world. We closed it from anybody from the outside coming in, and we put strict guidelines and sanitation guidelines in place in mid-January. And since that time, we’ve had no incidences,” he mentioned. 

“People will try something different simply because you’ve eliminated some of their core when they go out to eat. A lot of people are not aware what’s even in center store and so now they’re out there having to shop and look what’s there.”

J. Douglas Hines

Chairman, Atlantic Natural Foods

Atlantic Natural Foods has 100 staff at its North Carolina facility and when it began to beef up its manufacturing, Hines mentioned management sat down with staff and instructed them what to anticipate. 

“We told them it is our responsibility and announced our commitment that we have to provide food to our consumers and to America. Even though we’re small, you’re an important part of that,” he mentioned. 

He mentioned it’s important to speak and make staff really feel like they’re part of the hassle. 

Many large meals firms, from PepsiCo to Mondelez, are providing additional advantages to staff as manufacturing crops ramp up hours and shift manufacturing schedules. Hines mentioned the corporate has given staff a bonus of $100 each two weeks and is shopping for them dinner as soon as every week for their households as a result of it is vital they preserve working. The firm can be now paying a $2/hour bonus for all hourly staff and a “pandemic” bonus to supervisors and managers, however did not say how a lot.

“We are managing the workforce as we don’t want them to be too tired and putting their welfare over incremental production. We have pooled the force and will try to alternate Saturdays, but it will be up to them. People and equipment need rest,” Hines mentioned. 

The firm additionally supplemented its present sick go away coverage this yr to cowl primary pay for as much as 5 further days. This will give staff a complete of eight days of sick go away on high of their paid break day.  

Like different producers, Atlantic Natural Foods has carried out larger security measures, together with elevated hand washing, sanitizing and rotated temperature testing. Employees already needed to put on masks and gloves within the processing areas.

There have solely been a couple of points up to now. The firm not too long ago had hassle getting quinoa powder it makes use of from South America due to worldwide delivery challenges, however he mentioned the corporate is working through it and is now capable of fly the product up. The firm has been capable of safe all the opposite uncooked supplies its makes use of, Hines mentioned, however provides and distribution might nonetheless be a priority sooner or later as a result of there may be nonetheless a lot uncertainty about how lengthy the outbreak will final and what it’ll impact.

“We just don’t know what’s out there yet,” he mentioned. 

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