As of March 30, at least 27 U.S. states had issued stay-at-home orders, and many “nonessential” businesses had closed. But food and beverage manufacturers, including dairy processors, continue to operate as part of a subset of industries deemed essential to continued critical infrastructure viability.
Dairy Foods asked high-level executives from a handful of well-known dairy processing companies about how these challenging times have impacted their operations. Participants include Mariano Lozano, CEO of Danone North America, White Plains, N.Y., and Broomfield, Colo.; Monica Massey, executive vice president and chief of staff with Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Kan.; Stan Ryan, president and CEO of Darigold Inc., Seattle (with input from other top Darigold executives); Robert Denning, President and CEO of Perry’s Ice Cream Co. Inc.; Ed Mullins, CEO of Prairie Farms Dairy, Edwardsville, Ill.; and Patrick Criteser, president and CEO of Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore.
What follows is part 2 of the discussion. Part 1 was published on March 27.
Dairy Foods: How are you communicating with customers and consumers in relation to the virus?
Mariano Lozano: We have been in regular communication with our customers since the outbreak to ensure they are informed on how we are managing through COVID-19 as an organization. In these updates, we have confirmed to our customers that our supply chain has not been materially affected by COVID-19, and at this time have no reasons to be concerned about business continuity. We are also supporting all of our brands with consumer communications, as we always do.
Monica Massey: We’ve been regularly communicating with our customers as the coronavirus situation has escalated. We want our customers to know that we’re focused on maintaining our supply chain and don’t anticipate any substantial interruptions due to the coronavirus. Each of our plants has continuity plans in place, and we’re continually looking at a variety of scenarios should situations change due to this outbreak.
From a consumer standpoint, we want everyone to know that our farm families and brands will continue to nourish their communities with the delicious and nutritious goodness of milk and other dairy products.
Stan Ryan: We are responding to questions from many directions throughout the supply chain as they arise through various channels.
Robert Denning: Ongoing communications with our key customers are near daily, primarily through phone calls and text messages; email has been secondary. On the consumer side, we are tying into the International Dairy Food’s Association #Essentials series to proactively share industry related information across Perry’s social media channels and recognize those who have been working hard to produce and provide our customers and consumers with fresh, safe and nutritious products.
Ed Mullins: We have assured customers and consumers on our webpage and through social media that we will continue to provide high-quality, safe and nutritious dairy products. We’ve let them know that of our manufacturing facilities are operating normally and will continue to deliver milk and dairy products to our retail and foodservice partners so they can keep shelves stocked with the products they love. We’ve also shared through social and broadcast media how we’re giving back to communities through food bank donations and other programs.
Patrick Criteser: We aim to be as transparent as possible about how COVID-19 will impact our business and continue to have frequent conversations with retail partners, working closely with them to understand their needs as consumers fill their pantries and refrigerators.
We are also speaking directly to consumers. I shared an update last week on our website to explain what adjustments we are making to keep our business running. We are proactively sharing on all our social media channels, too.
Dairy Foods: Do you have any other comments in relation to the coronavirus outbreak and the dairy processing industry?
Criteser: If anyone can respond to disruptions, it’s the U.S. food system, one of the most resilient in the world. Tillamook has been in business for more than a century, and we are confident in our ability to navigate consumer needs in the weeks and months ahead. We’re all in this together. I’m certain you’ll see ongoing collaboration and cooperation as everyone comes together to get through these challenging times.
Mullins: The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is a rapidly changing and fluid situation. We are following guidance from public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as well as state and local governments. We want consumers to take comfort in knowing that our dairy farm families and team members stand ready to do our part to help feed America during this unprecedented crisis.
Denning: When I think of our response to the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus we face, I have great pride in our team members and organization for pulling together to support one another, our families, our customers and our communities. This is the kind of “Good Stuff” I am witnessing and most thankful for right now. One has to believe [that] supporting our customers during this most difficult time will be long remembered after the current crisis subsides.
Ryan: It is critical that we maintain personal safety for our employees, suppliers and contractors as we continue to produce milk and other dairy products. In this stressful and angst-filled environment, we see yet another occasion to be proud of our employees. It is bringing the best out of them, and they have a lot of “best” to give! We are thankful to them all!
Massey: We work in an industry that, in times of crisis, is part of an essential workforce. For this reason, our farm families and employees will continue to work hard, each and every day, to produce safe and wholesome dairy products for their local communities. They take pride in doing so.
Lozano: As a food and beverage company — one of the nation’s critical infrastructure industries — and the world’s largest B Corp, we have a responsibility to go above and beyond during these challenging times to keep our workforce safe and secure and grocery shelves stocked for everyone. We are taking this responsibility very seriously. We are also so grateful to our 770-plus farmer partners and other suppliers who are going the extra mile to ensure that we're keeping grocery shelves stocked.