Trident to close plant hit by Covid outbreak

Trident to close plant hit by Covid outbreak

As we move into 2021, just-food continues to provide daily updates on how the Covid-19 pandemic is still affecting the world's packaged food sector – and how the industry's executives see the market and consumer behaviour taking shape in the months ahead.

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These rolling updates build on our previous bulletins, published throughout 2020.

22 January

Trident Seafoods closes Akutan plant for three weeks

Trident Seafoods, which claims to be the largest vertically-integrated seafood harvesting and processing company in North America, has had to temporarily close a plant in Alaska amid a number of Covid-19 infections.

The first of four cases at the processing facility in Akutan became apparent last weekend with an employee testing positive, and the other infections were discovered when the worker's three room mates were tested. All four had tested negative for the virus two weeks earlier. 

In a statement issued yesterday (21 January), privately-owned Trident, headquartered in Seattle, Washington, said it will pause operations for three weeks while it undertakes "comprehensive" testing and to "support a preventative quarantine" for the 700 workers. 

JBS, Pilgrim's Pride offer US workers $100 vaccine incentive

Meat packers JBS and Pilgrim's Pride are offering to give US employees a US$100 bonus if they voluntarily take a Covid-19 vaccine.

"The new initiative is designed to encourage maximum participation in the Biden administration's accelerated pandemic response efforts and ensure that every JBS USA and Pilgrim's team member who wants to get vaccinated can do so as soon as vaccines are made available," the two companies said in a joint statement.

JBS, headquartered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is the majority-owner of US poultry processor Pilgrim's Pride. Both companies have, in the recent past, reported Covid-19 cases at their plants in the US and the UK.

"With nearly 66,000 US team members, we are hopeful this initiative will lead to high vaccination participation rates that will benefit our workforce and the rural communities and cities in which they live and work across America," said Andre Nogueira, the CEO of JBS' US division.

"Throughout the pandemic, JBS USA and Pilgrim's have adopted industry-leading measures to protect our essential frontline workers who continue to provide food for the nation. Our goal in offering this extra pay to our team members is to remove any barriers to vaccination and incentivise our team members to protect themselves, their families and their co-workers."

China confirms first cases of Covid among meat workers - report

China has reportedly detected its first cases of Covid-19 among meat workers, with ten confirmed cases at a poultry factory owned by Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Foods.

The facility in question is located in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province in China's north-east region.

Reuters reported from an official Chinese news briefing that a further 28 employees at the plant, along with three family members, were asymptomatic amid a wider community outbreak in the region. The news agency added that samples taken from inside the slaughterhouse, its cold storage area and the outside of product packaging earlier this week came up positive for the virus.

Officials at Charoen Pokphand's Bangkok headquarters "made no immediate comment", Reuters said.


21 January

Muller hit by Covid-19 infections at UK plant, worker dies

Unternehmensgruppe Theo Müller, the Germany-headquartered dairy giant, has confirmed a slew of Covid-19 infections at one of its UK plants, along with the death of an employee.

20 January

Trident Seafoods reports cases at Alaska plant

Trident Seafoods, headquartered in Seattle, Washington, has reported four cases of Covid-19 at a processing plant in Akutan, Alaska, despite "rigorous preventative measures". 

CEO Joe Bundrant, the son of Trident's founder Chuck Bundrant, said in a statement: "Health and safety are our absolute priority. We have said from the beginning of this pandemic that if we have an issue, we're going to shed a light on it. We want to be sure people are aware and know that we are taking this very seriously."

The first case became apparent last weekend with an employee testing positive, and the other infections were discovered when the worker's three room mates were tested. All four had tested negative for the virus two weeks earlier.

One of the workers is currently in hospital, while the three others are self-isolating.

Stefanie Moreland, Trident's vice president of government relations and sustainability, said the company is working to try and establish the source of the infections among the 700 staff at Akutan.

"We have notified the state of Alaska, the city of Akutan and our medical partners and are coordinating with all to conduct further tests, implement protocols and contain exposure," Moreland said. 

19 January

Lindt & Sprüngli annual sales drop on pandemic-related challenges

Lindt & Sprüngli, the premium chocolate maker based in Switzerland, has reported a 6.2% decline in annual organic sales to CHF4.02bn (US$4.53bn).

The drop – minus 10.9% on a reported basis - was put down to "major global challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic", namely the closure of its store network and reduced shopping visits, and also strength in the Swiss franc. 

Still, the decline in organic sales was within the company's expectations for a 5% to 7% decrease (Stifel -5.2%), while the company said it notched up market share gains in "practically all countries" in which Lindt & Sprüngli operates.

"The global restrictions and regulations to contain the pandemic unfortunately had an impact on important areas of Lindt & Sprüngli's business. The restrictions on the foodservice area in North America and the traditional speciality stores in Italy had a major impact on sales. The travel retail business also recorded a sharp drop in sales due to the restricted air traffic," it said in a statement.

Sales in Europe fell 2.9% on an organic basis and were down 6.8% in North America. It was worse in the rest of the world segment, where sales dropped 16.1%, although China and Japan posted growth.

Lindt & Sprüngli said the medium- and long-term organic growth targets remain unchanged at 5-7% per year, while the operating profit margin of 10% realised in 2020 is expected to "return to a level of around 15% in 2022".

18 January

UK trade bodies lobby government to support foodservice suppliers

A group of trade associations are pressing the UK government to provide financial support for food manufacturers supplying the out-of-home sector, warning they risk going out of business without some form of aid.

The 18-strong group is led by the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) which have written a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other government ministers pointing out how pubs, restaurants and cafes have received extended financial support but the businesses that supply them have not.

They are calling for an extension to the 12-month exemption period for local business rates for companies operating in the hospitality and foodservice sector and the introduction of capital and tax break allowances aimed at retaining staff.

The group is also pressing the Government to formalise the deferment of PAYE and NI payments until the end of 2021 for the sector. And to increase the level of funding for the Additional Restrictions Grant and to make the funding accessible, along with providing grants for those companies that have had to dispose of stock because of lockdown restrictions.

BFFF CEO Richard Harrow said: "England's national lockdown, plus restrictions in the UK's other nations, have been devastating for our many businesses supplying the hospitality and foodservice markets and they are facing a bleak winter. Their continued existence will be critical as the economy starts to recover."

14 January

Bakkavor annual revenues decline on pandemic impact – trading update

Private-label fresh food supplier Bakkavor has said revenues fell in the fiscal year through December amid a new round of Covid-19-related lockdowns in the final quarter.

In a trading update today, the London-based business said group revenues were down 4.9% on both a reported and like-for-like basis in the 12 months ended 26 December ahead of the final results on 16 March. The decline was more protracted in the UK, where like-for-like sales fell 5.3%.

On the international front, revenues dropped 21.6% in China, which was the Bakkavor division "most severely impacted by the pandemic", offsetting a 12.7% increase in revenues in the US.

Bakkavor currently anticipates adjusted EBITDA will be in line with the previous annual print of GBP138m (US$188.3m).

CEO Agust Gudmundsson said: "Notwithstanding the ongoing impact of Covid-19, we have a sound business model and solid platform that leaves us well-placed to navigate the current environment and achieve long-term sustainable growth."

11 January

Maple Leaf Foods to acquire facility for plant-based unit Greenleaf

Canadian meat processor Maple Leaf Foods is set to purchase a production facility in the US for its plant-based unit Greenleaf Foods amid challenges to its expansion strategy in the country caused by Covid-19.

8 January

Cases rise at 2 Sisters' Coupar Angus facility in Scotland

2 Sisters Food Group, a UK-based poultry processor, has seen the number of Covid-19 cases rise at its Coupar Angus facility in Scotland.

Earlier this week, the company reported five infections amongst workers at the poultry plant in South Lanarkshire and now, according to NHS Tayside, the number has since climbed to 30.

The same site had to be closed temporarily last August after a number of employees tested positive.

A spokesperson for 2 Sisters said the company had nothing to add to the statement from NHS Tayside when contacted by just-food.

Dr Emma Fletcher, a director of public health for Tayside NHS, said a "comprehensive risk assessment" has been conducted at the facility a noted the safety measures 2 Sisters has put in place to protect workers.

"For several reasons the public should be reassured that it is possible for the factory to remain open at this time as we are in a very different position to when there were Covid-19 cases at the factory last August. The rate of community infection is much higher compared to August's outbreak," she said.

"The factory is continuing to work closely with NHS Tayside's Public Health team and Food Standards Scotland to help manage the situation."

7 January

BMPA urges UK government to prioritise meat workers for vaccines

The British Meat Processors Association is urging the UK government to prioritise "frontline workers in meat factories" for the coronavirus vaccines.

"The risk of more rapid spread of the virus amongst key workers, coupled with expected disruption of food supplies at our ports as the full effects of Brexit begin to unfold, pose a severe challenge to the industry and to the smooth running of the nation's food supply chain," the BMPA said in a statement today.

As well as the meat industry, BMPA members also include some of the major UK supermarkets, food retailers and ingredient suppliers. It said there is an increased risk that meat plants could close as the new strain of coronavirus pushes up absenteeism rates, which could possibly lead to food shortages.

"Given the specialised nature of the meat-processing industry, if absences go above a certain level, it becomes impossible for a plant to continue operations. If this starts happening, plants would be forced to close entirely and a sizeable chunk of food supply would disappear from supermarket shelves," it said.

Nick Allen, the CEO of BMPA, continued: "As the new coronavirus variant takes hold across the whole of the UK, we are hearing widespread reports of rapidly rising absences in the food-supply chain. In some cases, notably in the supermarket sector, companies are seeing a tripling of staff having to take time off work through illness or enforced self-isolation.

"We are therefore calling on Government to include meat-factory workers in the initial roll-out of vaccinations. This would provide much-needed protection and comfort to this at-risk group and the communities in which they live, as well as ensuring that the critical food-supply chain continues to run smoothly."

6 January

Thai Union says all plants operating amid dozens of Covid cases

The seafood giant has issued a statement to say it is "proactively testing" employees in a province south west of Bangkok and confirmed some 69 of its staff at its sites in the region have tested positive for the virus.

Thai Union Group said it had tested 23,630 out of 27,552 employees in the province of Samut Sakhon, with the rest of the workers to be tested by next week.

"We have comprehensive protocols in place in case of positive test results; these protocols include ensuring taking care of the affected employees while isolating them according to government guidelines, identifying and testing close contacts and deep cleaning of visited work areas," Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said. "It is very important to note that, due to the extremely small number of impacted employees, all Thai Union's factories currently remain open and operational at capacity."

Samut Sakhon province is one of the regions the Thai government has designated as a "red zone", or area with high infection rates. It is also Thailand's chief hub for seafood production.


Foster Farms faces lawsuit from workers union over Covid-19 safety

The US poultry processor, has become the subject of a lawsuit filed by the United Farm Workers union, which claims the company "refused" to follow safety guidelines after a number of workers died from Covid-19 at two of its plants in California.

5 January

UK announces grants for retail, foodservice businesses

The UK government has said it will make available "one-off, top-up grants" to the country's retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in the wake of the country's the fresh lockdown measures.

Firms can apply for grants worth up to GBP9,000 (US$12,200), with the Government suggesting the cash will benefit more than 600,000 companies.

"This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen," Rishi Sunak, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, said. "Throughout the pandemic we've taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we're announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the spring."

The UK's furlough scheme had already been extended until the end of April.


2 Sisters plant operating "as normal" amid Covid cases

The UK food manufacturer has reported a fresh clutch of positive cases of Covid-19 at a plant in Scotland that was hit by the virus during the summer.

2 Sisters said its Coupar Angus facility was "working as normal", with five of its staff having tested positive.

Last August, the site, located in south Lanarkshire, halted production for two weeks to after a number of employees caught the virus.


Cargill re-opens Covid-hit Canada plant

The US agri-food giant has resumed production at a meat plant in Canada closed before Christmas due to dozens of cases of Covid-19 among staff.

Cargill called a halt to output at the facility in Ontario in the week before the festive period. The company said at the time around 60 of its workers at the site in Guelph in Ontario had been diagnosed with Covid-19 amid a "community spread" of the virus.

Approximately 1,000 staff are employed at the factory, which is located in the city of Guelph. According to the Cargill website, the plant processes 1,500 head of cattle per day and is one of its two beef facilities in Canada. Combined, the plants make up 55% of the beef processing market in Canada, Cargill says.

"The health and safety of our employees continue to be our top priority," Cargill said in a statement on the re-opening of the factory. "In addition to safety measures we implemented at our facilities months ago, we have taken time during the idle to conduct a full, deep-clean of the facility as an additional step to respond to the community-wide impacts of the virus."

Like food manufacturers across the industry, and particularly in the meat sector, Cargill saw its production affected in the early months of the pandemic after positive cases were diagnosed among staff.

4 January

Nestle to expand US site to meet Covid demand

Nestlé is to up the production capacity of a plant in the US to meet changes in demand sparked by the virus.

23 December

FDF calls for compensation for exporters following border "chaos"

UK industry association The Food and Drink Federation has called on the country's government to compensate businesses affected by the closure of the border between Britain and France.

21 December

"We see consumer behaviours evolving in ways we think will stick beyond the pandemic" – General Mills' CEO Jeff Harmening on H1 results

General Mills reaped rewards from Covid-19 shopping behaviours in its fiscal first half as organic growth notched up a print of 8% compared to last year's flat performance. And the benefits look set to continue judging by the emergence of a new strain of the virus in the UK and Italy, while the US still grapples to contain the disease. Simon Harvey looks at the key talking points behind the results.


FDF warns of disrupted food supplies as France closes border with UK

The Food and Drink Federation is warning that supplies of food into the country face disruption as a result of France closing its border with Britain.

18 December

Cargill halts output at Canada meat site amid Covid-19 cases

Cargill has called a halt to production at a meat-processing facility in Canada after dozens of staff tested positive for Covid-19.

The US agri-food giant said around 60 of its workers at the site in Guelph in Ontario had been diagnosed with Covid-19 amid a "community spread" of the virus. Approximately 1,000 staff are employed at the factory.


Tyson Foods in spotlight over Covid protective measures

Following cases of Covid-19 at a number of Tyson Foods' meat plants since the virus erupted, the comptroller for New York City is calling on the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate the company's methods to protect workers.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has criticised Arkansas-headquartered Tyson of "flagrantly misrepresenting its poor pandemic response" to investors.

He has called out Tyson's Form 10-K, a financial results document presented to the SEC annually, for containing scant information on the company's workplace safety measures.

Tyson has been plagued by Covid-19 infections at a large number of plants, some of which have been forced to temporarily shutdown or pause production as the appropriate cleaning and sanitisation processes are carried out. The affected sites have included factories in: Portland, Maine; Waterloo, Iowa; Goodlettsville and Shelbyville, Tennessee; Pasco, Washington; Dakota City, Nebraska; and Longansport, Indiana. 

Six workers died from coronavirus at the Waterloo site, which witnessed more than a 1,000 infections.  

"There is human cost to Tyson's failures – preventable deaths, hospitalisations and sick workers," Stringer said in a letter to Tyson. "These failures have material impacts on its business operations that carry serious risks for shareholders."

Tyson has yet to respond to just-food's request for comment. 

17 December

Tyson Foods sacks seven managers linked to Covid-19 betting pool

Tyson Foods has sacked seven plant management employees at the US meat giant's site in Waterloo, Iowa, following an independent probe into a betting pool linked to Covid-19 infections.

16 December

Greencore's Nottingham factory hit by Covid

Greencore, a food-to-go manufacturer headquartered in Ireland, has a "number" of Covid-19 cases at a UK plant in the county of Nottinghamshire.

In a statement, the ready-meals to sandwiches maker said coronavirus infections in the Bassetlaw district in north Nottingham have been rising and Greencore now has an unspecified number of cases at its Manton Wood facility. All are currently self-isolating.

"We have arranged for testing to be carried out at the site, and have wide-ranging social-distancing measures, stringent hygiene procedures and regular temperature checking in place," the statement read. "We are liaising closely with the Director of Public Health for Nottinghamshire County Council and Public Health England. Our thoughts are with all those affected, who are currently recovering at home, and we will continue to monitor their welfare as the situation develops."
Jonathan Gribbin, a director of public health for Nottinghamshire County Council, added in the same statement provided by Greencore: "We have been carefully studying the cluster of cases across Bassetlaw district. We are working with Greencore and Public Health England  to provide testing and to understand more about how people are acquiring the infection. Greencore has an extensive range of controls in place, has responded quickly and decisively to the situation and is working closely with us."

Other Greencore sites have seen cases of Covid during the year.

15 December

EU food-manufacturing workers "should be priority for vaccines"

FoodDrinkEurope, the trade body for representing food manufacturers operating in the EU, has called on the bloc's member states to take up a recommendation from The European Commission to include workers in the agri-food sector as "a priority group" for vaccines against Covid-19.

A joint statement issued with European trade union federation EFFAT said the Commission had provided guidelines to member states when developing their vaccination strategies and had included agriculture and food sector workers as one of six priority groups.

"The approval and availability of vaccines against Covid-19 is a huge step forward in the fight against the global pandemic. Vaccinating the entire EU population will take significant time, and due to the limited number of doses available not everybody can be immunised immediately," the statement read.

"Food security can only be ensured when the health and safety of the workers in the food and drink industry is protected and production can run smoothly. This holds true in the workplaces, as well as when considering a vaccination strategy."

Quoting an unnamed German government source, Reuters said The European Medicines Agency is set to issue a positive verdict on the first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine next Wednesday (23 December).

9 December

Six new Covid cases confirmed at Bakkavor's Tilmanstone plant since Friday

Bakkavor, a UK private-label supplier, has said its salads plant in south-east England where two workers have unfortunately died after contracting Covid-19 has seen a further six new cases since last Friday (4 December), although numbers are declining.

A two-day mass-testing exercise was started at the Tilmanstone site in Kent on Monday (7 December) with 375 staff out of a workforce of "over 900" tested so far. In an update provided by Bakkavor yesterday afternoon, the company said 48 employees are now off work having tested positive, with another 44 self-isolating as a precautionary measure.

The testing programme was due to end at midnight yesterday. The Tilmanstone plant is currently operating at "reduced capacity", the company said, although a spokesperson for the business told just-food it is "a temporary adjustment, [with] no impact on service levels".

Bakkavor said in a statement: "As a business, we have fully followed PHE guidelines for the duration of the pandemic. We are currently working closely with Public Health England (PHE) South East and Kent County Council to monitor the situation and we will take whatever appropriate action is necessary to limit the spread of Covid-19 and to ensure that our staff on site are safe. We will follow PHE advice and, if and when further steps need to be taken, we will communicate any new developments."


4 December

Bakkavor to test all staff at Covid-hit plant

The UK private-label manufacturer is to test all staff working at a factory in south-east England for Covid-19 in the wake of two employees at the site dying after being diagnosed with the virus.

After talks with local government and health officials this week, Bakkavor will start conducting the tests at the facility, located in Tilmanstone in Kent, on Monday.

On the two members of staff who died, the company said: "We have sadly had two colleagues pass away following positive tests for Covid-19. These were valued members of our team and we are doing everything to support their families during this tragic time. At this early point in our investigation there is no evidence that either case was contracted in the workplace."

More than 900 employees work at the factory, which manufactures salad products. Bakkavor said 59 staff that have tested positive for Covid-19 are off work and a further 54 are self-isolating as a precautionary measure.


Survey reveals Covid, Brexit outlook for UK hospitality

A UK business survey reveals Covid-19 has "wrecked confidence" among company chiefs in the hospitality industry, with the majority (82%) downbeat on prospects for the coming year.

The poll by Manchester-based research consultancy CGA and Fourth, a provider of cloud-based cost control solutions to hospitality, shows the figure was up from 40% in a similar survey conducted in February.

"Extended restrictions on trading and socialising over the autumn have led more than a quarter (27%) of multi-site business leaders to predict their groups will be unviable within the first six months of 2021 if current levels of support continue. Single-site businesses are at even greater risk of failure," the survey reveals. 

Looking at the impact on the hospitality sector when the Brexit transition period ends this month, the majority of company chiefs anticipate a hit to profits (65%) and increased costs on imports (80%).

In terms of investment, the survey of 121 business leaders across management roles, reveals "widespread closures" are expected next year, with 38% having no plans to open new sites. "Substantial market churn, especially in London, where closures of offices, retail and tourist venues has hit footfall, can be expected," the researchers said.

CGA's research and insight director Charlie Mitchell said: "As we near the end of hospitality's toughest year in memory, the bleak picture of the sector will come as little surprise. Suffocating restrictions across Britain will devastate trading in what should be businesses' busiest time of the year. 

"Leaders' optimism is at least rising from the rock bottom level of our last survey, and news of a vaccine is a reason for cautious hope of recovery in 2021. However, this week's Tier 2 restrictions in England and strict new limits in Wales could be fatal for smaller business in particular, making the case for more relaxed trading conditions and better government support even more urgent."

3 December

Second Covid death reported at Bakkavor salad plant

A second employee at a UK salad plant owned by private-label major Bakkavor has died after contracting Covid-19.


PepsiCo 'temporarily closed US plant due to Covid outbreak'

US food and beverages giant PepsiCo is reported to have temporarily closed a Frito-Lay snacks plant in its home market due to an outbreak of coronavirus.

On Tuesday (1 December), media outlets in the US quoted Clark County officials as confirming 17 cases among employees at the plant in Vancouver, Washington State.

Public health officials said the first worker tested positive on 29 October. PepsiCo confirmed in a statement emailed to local media that multiple employees had tested positive for the virus although it did not list a specific number.

It described the decision to close the Vancouver plant as "a precautionary measure and in partnership with the Clark County Health Department". It said that the plant was being sanitised during the closure.

Reports suggested the plant was closed from 25 November but was due to re-open on Tuesday evening.

just-food has asked PepsiCo for an update on the situation at the plant.

1 December

Union calls for mass testing at Bakkavor UK site after Covid outbreak

The GMB trade union has called on private-label major Bakkavor to introduce mass Covid-19 testing at a salad facility in southern England after an outbreak of the virus among workers there.


BRF plant hit by Covid outbreak cleared to resume exports to China

A plant in southern Brazil operated by meat major BRF has been given the all-clear to resume exports to China following an earlier Covid-19 outbreak.

BRF said on Monday (30 November) its Lajeado pork unit has been authorised to resume exports to China, according to a statement sent to news agency Reuters.

The plant, which saw an outbreak of the virus among workers in May, employs about 3,000 people. The unit should resume exports over the coming days, the statement said.

"After an inspection by the Chinese authorities, it was possible to prove the commitment that all of us at BRF have always had regarding the health and safety of our employees and our products," Reuters quoted BRF as saying.

The news agency reported that least three other Brazilian meat factories remain blocked by China over coronavirus concerns, All are located in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.

BRF's Lajeado unit had been suspended by China since July.