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

A view of proposed seniors housing on Vernon St. Illustration: City of Nelson/ Vendure Retirement Communities
Nelson seniors housing project to start construction in the spring

Private development on Vernon Street will provide assisted living services as well as housing

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker came to Nelson in July 1967 to receive the keys to the city. Here, Carl Golling and Robert Huth, ages 10 and 12, hold a sign welcoming Diefenbaker to Nelson. Photo: Nelson Daily News Collection
COLUMN: Unveiling Nelson’s Cold War bunker

J.P. Stienne writes about the history of Diefenbunkers

A student takes aim at Nelson Waldorf School’s new archery range. Photo: Tyler Harper
New archery range opens at Nelson Waldorf School

The range has been in the works for over a decade

NAV CANDA is considering closing its station at the West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada considering closing station at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization is conducting a service review at Castlegar’s airport

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports seven more COVID-19 cases

Eighty-nine cases remain active, none of whom are currently hospitalized

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Most Read