July/August 2020 – Facing the Music

With a mission to inform, empower, celebrate and advocate for British Columbia's current and aspiring business leaders, BCBusiness go behind the headlines and bring readers face to face with the key issues and people driving business in B.C.

Issue link: http://digital.canadawide.com/i/1273655

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Page 25 of 79

FROM TOP: NATURE'S PATH; ARTICLE F O O D P R O D U C T I O N Sliced and Diced THE B.C. FOOD INDUSTRY SAW ITS PROBLEMS ACCELERATED BY COVID. CAN IT BEAT THEM AND BECOME THE CREAM OF THE CROP? and manages most of its home delivery. Our suppliers have a done a great job managing through this pandemic," he says. "A lot of them have customers from China and Europe. They were acting very quickly up front as we got into it and it hit North America." Chavez says he doesn't know what the future holds for Article in these uncertain times, but he notes that in April, sales doubled year-over-year. "We expect that growth to continue, but looking out to the end of the year or next year, it's a little too much uncertainty," he maintains. "But we're very happy with the customer response and the growth we're seeing." Unlike many B.C. businesses, Article hasn't had to deal with the shift on factory floors as companies comply with new health and safety standards. For manufacturers, those include sanitization protocols and social distancing measures. Lisa McGuire, founder and CEO of the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC, a Chilliwack nonprofit that represents close to 3,000 manufacturers (about 24 percent of the province's industry), thinks those changes are for the best and probably permanent. "This is a global health and safety crisis. I don't think there has ever been another example that has painted such a vivid picture of how important health and safety is," McGuire says of the pandemic. "The well-being of your workers is paramount—you can't possibly earn a profit without the people who work for your business." When the outbreak hit, some manufacturers were better than others at steering out of trouble. "Those who were best positioned to adapt quicker had systems in place, with a risk identification matrix and a functioning health and safety committee to help with that," McGuire says. "But no one was 100-percent ready, because this has never happened in our lifetimes." In the end, according to McGuire, the fallout from COVID-19 could actually be good for both manufacturers and their employ- ees. "Businesses that have better health and safety systems are better-performing, it's been shown consistently," she says. "There are reduced injury rates, reduced costs and improved quality. So absolutely, I would say we're going to come out of this stronger and able to manage through crisis more effectively." –N.C. IN B.C., FOOD PRODUCTION will probably be linked with the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come. That's troubling for an industry that was already dealing with some negative public perception. But it's also not the full story. Though the provincial govern- ment deemed harvesting and produc- ing food an essential service during the crisis, some smaller facilities had to reduce operations or staff or both. Meanwhile, large organizations, like the four Lower Mainland poultry plants that saw COVID breakouts, have learned some hard lessons. So while increased health and safety protocols instituted throughout the province will allow companies to return to more regular production, the industry may need a rebranding of sorts. "Sixty years ago, being involved in the food industry was a very noble enterprise; it was a good thing," says Victoria-based food systems researcher Debra Hellbach. "Now a lot of jobs in the sector are relegated to foreign workers because nobody wants to work there anymore." Hellbach's point is tough to dispute. In late May, in an effort to fast-track hiring, B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham introduced an online government job portal designed to match farmers with workers. It's estimated that the pandemic will result in a shortfall of some 7,000 seasonal agriculture jobs. Add it all up, and it makes sense why Nature's Path Foods executive vice-president Arjan Stephens calls his company "very blessed." One of the bigger names in the provincial industry, the Richmond-headquar- tered producer of organic cereals and snacks sells to 50 countries worldwide. As people stocked up on dry goods, sales jumped. Nature's Path kept all three of its facilities–in Delta, Washington state and Wiscon- sin–humming and even added to its payroll of roughly 700 employees. "Leading up to the crisis, our sales were good, and then we had large spikes in pantry loading and panic buying," Stephens says. "Fortunately, we've been able to react and are still playing catch-up and getting items into stock and supplying grocery stores and food retailers." Stephens acknowledges that there was a "lot of fear" from team members about coming to work, so Nature's Path brought in mandatory temperature screenings about six weeks before BC Centre for Disease Control guidelines suggested them for essential food production. Besides hiring more people to sanitize com- mon areas like lunch rooms and locker rooms, the company gave production 26 BCBUSINESS JULY/AUGUST 2020 GETTING COMFY Vancouver-based furniture e-tailer Article has managed to weather COVID FOOD FIGHTS Nature's Path and Wise Bites Collections (right) have kept product flowing

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