FILE – In this May 22, 2017, photo, cans of Campbell’s soup are displayed at a supermarket in Englewood, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Plants ‘operating 24/7’ to meet consumer demand for food amid COVID-19

Kraft Heinz Canada reported an 80% increase in demand for its Kraft Dinner product last month compared to March 2019

Campbell Soup Company’s production goes into overdrive during what executives dub “soup season.” Starting in October and ending with the close of winter, Campbell’s manufacturing centres run non-stop, staffed by extra employees.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer demand has soared, eclipsing that of the company’s busiest time. In March, there were more orders during one week than are typically seen in the entire month.

“Our plants are operating 24/7 right now, which is fairly unusual for April, to be honest,” said Beth Jolly, vice-president of communications at the company’s meal and beverages division, which includes Campbell Canada. “It’s really just been a dramatic shift to a full-out production increase.”

Demand for food, particularly non-perishable products, has surged as physical distancing measures keep Canadians close to home. Grocers are ordering more from manufactures, who like Campbell have hired more workers, increased operating hours and enacted other measures to increase production.

At Campbell’s, weekly case orders for that one week in March jumped about 366 per cent at the company’s meal and beverage division, Jolly said.

Kraft Heinz Canada, meanwhile, reported an 80 per cent increase in demand for its signature Kraft Dinner product last month compared to March 2019, the company says.

To meet that demand, both manufacturers had to make several changes to ramp up production.

Kraft’s Montreal-area production facility — where more than 90 per cent of its food for the Canadian market is produced — now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Av Maharaj, chief administrative officer for Kraft Heinz Canada.

The company is considering new ways to increase efficiency. It may prove simpler to produce only one type of packaging for Kraft Dinner rather than a variety of box designs, Maharaj said.

“From an efficiency perspective — you don’t want to stop your line, change packaging, build out the other one for a smaller packaging line,” he said. “But rather, produce the most popular brand, popular size and that gets more product to the market.”

More difficult is changing production lines. Demand is down from food service clients, such as restaurants and hotels. But transforming a food service production line to one making grocery products is not so simple.

“In many ways, it’s like, you know, a giant Lego system where every piece is connected,” said Maharaj.

It can be very expensive to switch a production line and take months to do, he said.

“You can’t sort of switch overnight from one product to the next.”

The company has been in talks to see if any of its food service products, such as single-serve peanut butter packets, can be sold at grocery stores.

Campbell’s, meanwhile, is trying to focus more on its most popular varieties of soup.

“It’s a bit of a balance,” said Jolly, since the company has to ensure it has enough ingredients to match the increased production.

“It’s not as if we can just put out chicken noodle and tomato.”

Campbell’s also dipped into its existing stockpiles. The company had about 1.5 million cans with limited-edition Andy Warhol labels ready to release in May, but decided to forgo the promotional activity and release the product in April to address demand.

These changes allowed the companies to make more of their products quicker.

Kraft typically makes about seven million Kraft Dinner boxes a month, according to the company. Last month, it made roughly 15 million.

Once the product is made another challenge is getting the extra goods to distribution centres and eventually grocery stores.

“Most food manufacturers don’t own their own trucks,” said Maharaj, and Kraft hires local trucking firms to transport its goods from production facilities to distribution centres.

“Very often, that can be a bottleneck because everyone needs trucks right now to get food out the door,” he said, noting the company’s logistics team has been working hard and “for the most part, we’ve been able to find the trucks that we need.”

In some cases, Kraft is bypassing distribution centres entirely and instead shipping straight to grocers.

“That’s one of the ways we’re speeding up getting product to customers.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusFood

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich police identify suspect in Brydon Park assault

No charges sworn, no arrest made as of July 9

Bacteria levels lead to swimming advisory at Saanich park

Craigflower-Kosapsum Park among regional beaches with swim advisories

West Shore RCMP arrests five suspects in multi-jurisdictional drug trafficking investigation

Cocaine, prohibited loaded handgun, weapons, stolen vehicles seized

Accident on Sooke Road slows traffic in both directions

According to Drive BC, it is unknown when site will be cleared

New affordable homes on the way in Sooke

Eight new affordable rental homes to be built at Hope Centre

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of July 7

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Would you get a vaccine for COVID-19 when it is available?

With the number of positive COVID-19 tests skyrocketing across much of the… Continue reading

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

RCMP disarm man experiencing mental health crisis

The male pulled a knife on officers and then held it to his own throat expressing a desire to die

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Time to protect B.C.’s unique glass sponge reefs, conservation group says

Climate change is a “serious and immediate threat” to the 9,000-year old sponges: study

Most Read