Time to look in the mirror as the world deals with Coronavirus - SKUFood
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Time to look in the mirror as the world deals with Coronavirus

My plan was to give you some insights into dealing with customers last week regarding the Coronavirus and then shift back to some of the topics I usually work on. The situation seems to have changed and escalated so much in the week that I wanted to share what I would tell you if you called to ask me what the priorities should be.

Consumers in Canada are not used to bare shelves in stores unless we are going into a major weather event. Between ‘stocking up’ and suppliers being challenged to meet orders, we know there are more out of stocks.

Many food producers and processors supply food service and retail. Food service is being impacted in the short term and they will continue to be as people eat out less and tourism is really impacted. I can tell you in Halifax where I live cruise ships are a major economic driver but most people are of the opinion we should not have them come into the port. In a very seasonal tourism industry Canada will be impacted over the summer when most people like to travel here. Speaking of food service did you see Tim Horton’s decided to completely re-design the Roll Up the Rim at the 11th hour? To prevent employees from having to handle the paper cup rims they shifted the entire program on line. That is a big commitment to reacting to the situation.

1. This is a time of upheaval for employees

No matter where you go right now this is the topic of conversation. Whether you think it is over blown or impending doom, it is on people’s mind. Communication will help alleviate some of the angst and I don't think anyone has all of the answers. That is not an excuse to say nothing. You should be telling people it is changing rapidly but as of today “here is where we are at”.

What is your plan if one employee tests positive?

What will happen to salaried and hourly employees if they are not able to come to work?

If someone an employee has been in contact with tests positive what is your plan?

What happens when someone in his or her family is impacted? Recently in New Brunswick they have decided if a school age child travels during March Break they must self quarantine for 2 weeks. When you think about it if you cancelled your trip because of the risk and then someone else goes away and comes back to infect you that is not really right.

2. Restricting access to your facilities

Keeping your employees healthy and focused on production is very important right now. It probably is not the ideal time to offer tours to people from other places. Your customers are very focused on servicing their stores so it is not likely that they want to visit right now.

3. Eliminate non-essential travel

This seems like a relatively easy decision to make. Most airlines are offering to move tickets so there are no out of pocket losses for your airline tickets that have been booked. Travel is great and often associated with learning or pleasure but when you really take a step back it is not usually essential. My understanding is all of the large retailers have made this decision.

4. Reduce or eliminate gatherings

Stopping the spread of the virus seems to be the biggest challenge in the short term. Most experts agree when you get a lot of people together the chance of one person infecting another increases so why put people at risk? Similar to travel it is not usually essential so find alternatives. Video conferencing is affordable and easy to use as long as you have access to the Internet.

5. Check on your supply chain

Ingredients, packaging and logistics could all be impacted by this global issue. I was watching a webinar from Export Development Canada today and they shared some concerning numbers about what is not coming out of Asia. We know the world is a smaller place than it was 10 years ago so take the time to confirm you will have the resources you need to produce your product. If you will be challenged give your customers as much lead time as possible and be intelligent and fair about how you allocate what you have.

6. Decide how often you will update customers

As I mentioned earlier no one person has all the answers. Similar to your employees this is not an excuse to say nothing. Communicate with your customers during these challenging times. If your item is one of the items in higher demand then communicate often. If your product is not critical right now then communicate but not too often and do not expect an answer.

7. Watch orders carefully

Consumers and customers are acting differently right now. Your sales people should be watching orders very carefully right now. Depending on what you produce, demand could be changing. If orders are going to decrease do you have another option for product and if they are going to increase can you handle the demand?

As I write this I just checked the news and I see more cancellations across major North American sports and events. Schools are closing in a number of areas as government tries to reduce the transmission opportunities. No doubt the economy and society will be impacted in so many ways. We all have to look in the mirror and do the right thing to prevent/reduce the chance of spreading the virus to others who might be more at risk.

If you have any questions please give me a call at (902) 489-2900 or send me an email at peter@skufood.com.