US food canners support workers in response to Covid-19

Many US canned food and beverage companies, including Campbell Soup, PepsiCo and Hormel Foods, are giving bonuses or other benefits to employees who manufacture and sell their products during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The news comes as the US government recognises the essential status of the food supply sector, as well as other key areas such as health care, during the crisis.

President Donald Trump issued updated coronavirus guidance on 16 March, saying: “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”

Campbell Soup Company said it was providing new support for teams at its manufacturing plants, distribution centres and in-store field-based sales, as they work to ensure the delivery of food supplies.

All hourly-paid employees at Campbell’s production plants and distribution centres will receive a US$2 per hour premium payment. Front-line supervisors, certain site staff and depot managers, will also receive an extra $100 a week. This incentive includes employees who oversee sales execution teams that are in stores and working with customers and independent distributors to ensure that store shelves are stocked.

These premium payments will be extended to approximately 11,000 front-line team members who make, sell, and distribute products to retail customers across the US. These temporary benefits, implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be in place for at least five weeks beginning 29 March.

Campbell says it has also taken steps to ensure the well-being and safety of its teams, including protocols for identifying potential employee exposure, quarantines, enhanced cleaning procedures and health screenings across the company’s network.

PepsiCo is also providing a minimum additional $100 per week for its more than 90,000 frontline employees in the US over the coming month. It will also provide enhanced benefits to all US-based employees, including full pay to those quarantined. The company also plans to hire 6,000 new frontline staff in the US.

Hormel Foods – maker of Spam canned luncheon meat – is to give more than $4 million as part of a cash bonus to its 13,000 production employees. The bonus includes $300 for full-time workers and $150 for part-time employees. And Mondelēz International’s manufacturing, distribution and sales hourly workforce will get a $2 per hour pay increase until 2 May and sales representatives will get a $125 a week bonus.

Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo’s chief executive, said: “With Covid-19 reshaping the way we run our business and live our lives, it’s important that we acknowledge the people keeping us steady during turbulent times, notably the heroic work of the millions of doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals around the world.

“At the same time, there is important work being done in other sectors, including our own, to help maintain the supply of foods and beverages.”

Global food and drink supply chains have come under severe pressure with panic buying by consumers who fear being confined to their homes because of Covid-19. This has resulted in supermarket shelves being regularly emptied of shelf-stable food such as canned foods and drinks.

Figures from researcher Nielsen showed that for the week ended 14 March, soft drink sales increased 26.1 per cent, canned meat was up 187.8 per cent and fresh meat alternatives jumped 279.8 per cent compared with a year ago. In Campbell’s Meals & Beverages segment, more cases were ordered for the week ending 21 March 2020 than the entire month of March 2019. Compared with a year ago, the weekly case order was up 366 per cent.

Meanwhile, alcoholic-drinks companies such as Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Anheuser-Busch InBev have started making and donating hand sanitiser to help alleviate retail shortages.