Some pet food manufacturers and suppliers have issued statements to consumers addressing the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the United States, how it is affecting their processes and supply chains, and what safety measures and precautions are being taken during this pandemic.

 

Manufacturers

Grant Reid, chief executive officer at Mars Incorporated, shared a letter with its associates on March 17 detailing how it plans to go forward in the best interest of its employees, as well as the communities, consumers and pets it serves around the world.

This includes "providing extra flexibility to manage quarantine situations, Reid wrote, supporting the mental and physical health and wellbeing of employees, restricting travel and large meetings, and following leading health organization guidelines. 

"Our consumers can be confident in the safety and quality of our products and services during this time. The current coronavirus outbreak does not pose a food safety risk to humans or pets. In our veterinary practices, our Associates are always diligent about good hygiene and proper hand-washing," Reid said.

Mars also issued a statement regarding emergency economic support, saying it should not be eligible for assistance or recovery packages and that those should be focused on small and medium-sized businesses.

Purina, a Nestlé subsidiary, posted a statement to consumers on Facebook ensuring its manufacturing facilities in the United States are practicing social distancing and that it will continue to produce pet food and treat products. Purina said it is donating pet food, cat litter and other means of support to its shelter partners across the country.

Overall, Nestlé is supporting employees by guaranteeing 12 weeks of regular wages in the event of facility closures, expanding health care benefits of employment, increasing wages for some eligible employees, and increasing paid-time-off benefits for those impacted by coronavirus. The company is also upping its sanitation practices and enforcing social distancing at manufacturing facilities.

Nestlé is not allowing shareholders to attend its Annual General Meeting, planned for April 23, in person due to social distancing restrictions and public health precautions implemented to combat the spread of the virus. Shareholders can still submit voting instructions through a digital shareholder portal or in writing to Hartmann Dreyer, Attorneys-at-law, a third-party representative of the company.

The company has partnered with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), donating $10.4 million (CHF 10 million) to help with first aid, emergency response and epidemic control, as well as providing medical nutrition products and bottled water for affected communities.

KLN Family Brands, the owner of Tuffy's Pet Food, reported in a Facebook post that it is following recommendations for ensuring employee health and safety, and said the company will continue production for its pet food and confectionery businesses as long as possible while keeping its product and people safe.

Geoff Tanner, chief marketing and commercialization officer at The J.M. Smucker Company, on March 19 issued a letter to its customers detailing how the company is handling the situation, including precautions for employees, operational and supply chain measures, and mitigating impact for each of its business segments including pet food.

“Our pet food and pet snacks manufacturing facilities are running at or near full production capacity. We have added all available production days and continue to optimize our production mix to support the highest turn/volume items. We are in regular contact with our suppliers and co-pack network to understand their ability to meet existing orders and any potential impact of government actions,” Tanner said.

The company will be making proactive product cuts to focus on producing and providing pet food and treats that are in the highest demand. Select Natural Balance kibble dog foods, all wet pet foods in its Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipe and Rachael Ray Nutrish lines, and Milk Bone Brushing Chews will continue to be produced, but not above the normal monthly demand, Tanner said, in order to increase the production capacity of high volume products.

The company is also urging eligible employees to work from home, restricting international travel and limiting domestic travel, and practicing increased employee safety, hygiene and sanitation measures at its pet food and treat manufacturing facilities.

In addition, the company is paying a one-time “hardship award” of $1,500 to approximately 5,700 of its employees in manufacturing, distribution and other functions. It is also is providing 12 weeks of full pay and benefits continuation for employees whose manufacturing or distribution facility is closed or whose roles cannot be performed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We understand the uncertainty people are feeling right now, and are committed to do our part to ease some of that concern by supporting our employees and communities, while ensuring people and pets have access to a steady supply of food," said Mark Smucker, president and CEO of Smucker.

Freshpet, which produces pet food in Bethlehem, PA, said it will continue its operations there on a 24-hour schedule to keep pace with increased demand. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf deemed animal food manufacturing businesses exempt from closures on March 19.

“Freshpet is committed to playing its part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. We have taken significant measures to protect our team members and the broader community, including increased sanitation and restricting visitors at our Freshpet Kitchens," said Billy Cyr, chief executive officer of the fresh pet food company.

Stella & Chewy’s, a raw nutrition-focused pet food and treat manufacturer based in Oak Creek, Wis., said it is following guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as minimizing contact between employees, contractors and other outside visitors to its manufacturing facility at this time.

The manufacturer said that to meet increased demand, it is operating 24/7 in order to increase production and inventory. It has also increased the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing manufacturing equipment and other areas commonly used by employees.

Lotus Pet Foods, a Torrance, Calif.-based pet food producer, sent an email to consumers detailing the efforts and precautions it is taking during the crisis, which includes increasing the frequency of sanitation in areas that are touched or trafficked most often, utilizing digital channels to conduct sales instead of in-person meetings and enforcing strict food safety standards at each of its canneries.

“During these very difficult and uncertain times, it is important to do everything we can and follow the guidelines from the CDC and The World Health Organizations to help each other get through this,” said Daron Matsuura, president of Lotus Pet Foods, in the email.

Muenster Milling Company, based in Muenster, Texas, is also taking precautions such as adjusted cleaning schedules, shift changes and the use of personal protective gear for its employees. It is also keeping a close eye on the food safety of its finished pet foods and treats.

Chad Felderhoff, director of operations at Muenster, noted in an email to consumers that, as of now, there should be no delays in product shipments for its regional customers.

“As we continue to monitor the situation, we will operate in a manner that we see fit to protect our customers, employees and family members,” Felderhoff added.

California-based Plato Pet Treats acknowledged the potential impact of COVID-19 on independent pet retailers, and said it will continue production, distribution, and holding its products to a high food safety standard.

"We are operating at full production and will continue to do so unless and until we are instructed otherwise," the company said in a statement posted by Aaron Merrell, CEO and co-founder of Plato. 

Ziwi Peak, a pet food and treat company that distributes globally and sources many main ingredients from New Zealand, assured consumers that it is working to keep its manufacturing kitchen's stocked and maintaining high food safety and quality standards. Richard Lawrence, managing director of ZIWI Ltd., said the company has also implemented added safety measures for its employees, including social distancing and isolation, daily health monitoring, and PPE (personal protective equipment). 

The company has increased its cleaning procedures at manufacturing locations and is running at maximum capacity to be able to meet increased distribution needs, according to Lawrence.

Honest Paws, a hemp-infused pet product company, is providing $700 for each company to go toward any supplies they might need to work from home, as well as unlimited paid time off for its full-time employees.

"We hope that by doing our part, we're minimizing the negative effects of COVID-19 and supporting our employees during this trying time," commented Erik Rivera, CEO of Honest Paws.

 

Suppliers

On the supplier side of the equation, Balchem Corporation has created an Action & Response Plan to ensure it can continue suppling its customers “while also ensuring the safety and security of our dedicated employee teems,” said Jonathan Griffin, vice president and general manager of Balchem Animal Nutrition & Health in an email to stakeholders.

Balchem has issued travel and site visit restrictions for both domestic and international business. This includes sales and customer service in-person meetings. The company said it will continue to fill orders placed at this time, and that its teams have access to sufficient equipment and digital capabilities to support customers digitally.

Griffin added that its operations will continue uninterrupted, and that the company will increase inventory of raw materials and finished goods to minimize potential supply issues going forward.

“Balchem's corporate and local leadership are monitoring this rapidly evolving situation and are committed to keeping our valued customers informed as conditions warrant any further updates. Please know that we are thinking of you and your families, friends, and colleagues, and we are committed to providing the support you need,” Griffin wrote.

Balchem is headquartered in New Hampton, NY, with two United States sales offices in St. Louis, MO and Layton, Utah, as well as two international sales offices in Marano, Italy and The Hague, Netherlands.

The company operates 14 manufacturing facilities in the United States, located in Defiance, Ohio; Lincoln, Neb.; Green Pond, SC; St. Gabriel, LA; Whittemore, Iowa; Marshfield, Wis.; Slate Hill, NY; Sleepy Eye and Fairbault, Minn.; Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah; Covington, VA; and Bridgeton and Verona, MO. Balchem also has manufacturing plants in Marano and Bertinoro, Italy; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Grimbergen, Belgium.

Schenck Process, a global equipment supplier, also remains open for business with some digital and remote concessions for its employees and customers. Keith Cochrane, president and CEO of the company.

"We are monitoring developments as they evolve and taking the appropriate steps — consistent with government and healthy authority guidance — to help and support the ongoing wellbeing of everyone across the business and in our broader communities," Cochrane said.

ADM has pledged $1 million through the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which will benefit the World Health Organization (WHO) and local charities in the communities the company serves. Employee donations to relief and mitigation efforts will also be matched by ADM.

The company is also providing relief for affected employees through its Colleague Emergency Fund.

“We are committed to playing our role in maintaining continuity throughout the entire agriculture supply chain," said Juan Luciano, chairman and CEO of ADM. "Our employees are working hard to maintain operations, enabling our customers to have the key ADM ingredients and products they need, and we have business continuity plans in place at each processing facility to manage through potential impacts associated with COVID-19."

 

Retailers

Tractor Supply Company, a major rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, is also taking precautions. The company said it is adjusting its store hours and adding labor hours to keep stores fully stocked, enhancing customer service, conducting more frequent store cleaning, expanding available paid sick leave for employees, and increasing its inventory of pet food and animal feed. 

"As the largest seller of bagged livestock and equine feed in the United States, along with significant companion animal food sales, our customers view Tractor Supply as critical to feeding and caring for their animals and pets, just as the grocery store is to their families’ needs. Our commitment is to be here for them and do everything we can to assist them, while protecting our team members and customers and preventing the spread of the virus," said Hal Lawton, president and CEO of Tractor Supply Co.

Petco announced March 22 that it is putting $2 million toward a Petco Partner Assistance Fund to benefit more than 27,000 of its partners, including employees who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and their families. This assistance will be based on an application. It is also implementing a new paid leave policy for employees for those directly impacted by the virus. 

"This is our way of lending a collective helping hand when they may need it most. Whether it's now, related to the unprecedented and still undetermined effects of COVID-19, or other times of need they face, this fund is intended to provide necessary support to the partners who fuel Petco's work to improve the lives of pets, pet parents and our own people every day," said Ron Coughlin, CEO of Petco.

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