Food manufacturers shift production to focus on essentials during COVID-19 pandemic

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Walmart Canada – a Toronto store seen here on March 13, 2020 – has met with suppliers more regularly to deal with changes in demand during the pandemic.

CARLOS OSORIO / Reuters

Food manufacturers are limiting production to their most popular items to maximize volume and meet the booming demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Canadians isolate themselves, eat more meals at home and store essentials, the demand for certain groceries has increased by 400%. Large retailers, who generally stock “just enough, just in time,” are struggling to replenish their shelves.

The manufacturers reacted by limiting their portfolio to their most popular items, which enabled their machines and production lines to operate more efficiently. In these unprecedented times, they are back to basics.

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In the first week of April alone, the head of a national purchasing organization received messages from dozens of companies saying they were focusing on commonly sold items.

“They’re just trying to meet the demand and provide something to eat,” said Denis Gendron, president of United Grocers Inc., which negotiates purchase agreements on behalf of various retailers who together account for one-third of Canadian grocery industry. “They make the items that they can make the fastest and that sell well. “

While many companies have been shut down to slow the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, food manufacturers are considered essential services and are allowed to continue operating.

Italpasta of Ontario typically makes 63 types of pasta, but the company focuses on the first six cuts of its Tradizionale product line: spaghetti, spaghettini, penne, fusilli, elbows and lasagna.

“We use spaghetti 24 hours a day,” said owner and president Joseph Vitale. “People are not so fanciful right now. They just want pasta. “

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By focusing on basic cuts and stopping production of whole grain pasta and egg noodles, the company’s manufacturing plant can increase production by operating more efficiently; it takes about three hours to change the mold on the pasta press, he said.

Vitale said accelerated and streamlined production is necessary. One night last week, about 15 trucks were lined up in front of the manufacturing plant, waiting for a spot at one of the 20 loading doors, all occupied. “We charge all night and all weekend,” he said, adding that production had increased by about 30%.

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Prairie Flour Mills usually packages 35 products, but the Manitoba company has temporarily shelved them. As co-owner Clayton Manness said in a recent interview, “We’re just trying to get plain flour out the door. “

Nestlé Canada is also reducing the number of products it produces at the moment. “In this dynamic situation, we carefully manage our supply chain and act with what is produced and shipped, which varies by product and customer,” said the food and beverage giant in an e- mail. “We believe that a simplified portfolio approach enables greater efficiency across the entire value chain in times of crisis.”

Manufacturers of household goods to grocers are changing similarly. Kruger Products, the country’s largest producer of toilet paper, manufactures only its popular brands and formats: Cashmere and Purex toilet paper, SpongeTowels and Scotties toilet paper. The company said it is operating its eight manufacturing facilities at full capacity and has also opened old production lines.

In terms of retail, Walmart Canada has met with suppliers more regularly to deal with changes in demand during the pandemic. Reducing the variety of their product assortment is a common tactic today, said Lani Lindsay, vice president of enterprise replenishment. A manufacturer of pasta sauce now makes three kinds of sauce instead of the usual eight, for example, and a manufacturer of toilet paper produces two sizes of packaging instead of five.

“With each supplier, we discuss the items that our customers are looking for the most and prioritize [certain products]Said Ms. Lindsay in a statement. “We are also looking for goods to order and ship in efficient quantities, such as pallets. The strategy also reduces processing time and allows the product to move faster. “

A spokeswoman for Metro Inc., which is a member of the UGI buying group, said the company supports the simplified manufacturing approach. “It’s the right thing to do under the circumstances,” said Marie-Claude Bacon, adding that the retailer is confident that customers will always see enough variety.

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And the situation is only temporary. Vitale said that when life returns to normal, the company will resume cuts such as rotini, rigatoni, scoobi do and fettuccine. “As soon as this thing is finished, we will start doing everything again,” he said. ” It’s an emergency. “

Christopher Mio and Meghan Hoople were unemployed and wanted to help after the isolation of COVID-19 in Toronto. After traveling around their neighborhood with a free offer, they received a surge of support and requests from people in need.

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