The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to all food manufacturers, from anticipating supply issues to instituting new, even stricter safety protocols.
Blommer Chocolate Co. was ready to meet these challenges head on, thanks to dedicated crisis response and risk management teams and frequent communication among all staff members.
David Meggs, Blommer's chief commercial officer, recently spoke to Candy Industry about the measures the Chicago-based chocolate producer has taken to keep employees safe and production running smoothly during the pandemic.
CI: Were there any protocols Blommer had in place before the pandemic that have been helpful?
DM: Blommer had a Crisis Response Team (CRT) and Risk Management Team (RMT) in place with existing protocols prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CRT looks at the immediate needs from an urgent issue and how to mobilize resources and information to deal with situations facing the organization. The RMT looks at the same situations through a bigger, longer term impact lens to lead the organization through the situation. The teams are complementary.
The CRT is led by Blommer’s senior manager of environmental health and safety and is comprised of heads of various departments including legal, quality, marketing, human resources, operations, IT, commodities and finance. The Risk Management Team consists of the executive leadership team.
CI: Has Blommer put any new safety protocols into place since the outbreak began? If so, what were they?
DM: Blommer has put several new protocols into place since the outbreak. These include:
- Screening anyone who enters the plant for illness and exposure
- Sourcing of additional PPE (masks and face shields where appropriate)
- Eliminating non-essential visitors
- Remote work program
- Social distancing
- Staggered shifts
- Enhanced sanitation
- Suspended travel
- Increased use of web-based meetings and technology
Blommer’s CRT meets daily and reviews these protocols as the pandemic evolves. The team ensures that all possible safety, sanitation and security measures at our disposal are in place. This has greatly helped Blommer to reduce the risk of our employees being exposed to the virus. Blommer has practiced aggressive quarantine procedures, asking employees who had even secondary potential exposure to the virus to remove themselves from work until we could ensure they were not ill.
CI: Did Blommer’s Canadian facility require different protocols? Or were they pretty much the same?
DM: Fortunately, Blommer’s Canadian facility is in an area that hasn’t been highly impacted by the virus to this point. However, the plant has implemented all the same safety measures that are in place in our other North American plants.
CI: Chicago has been one of the country’s hotspots for COVID-19 cases. Has that had an impact on Blommer’s workforce there?
DM: Our screening process, frequent communication with all staff and ongoing transparency have made it possible to manage to date with minimal work stoppages. We are pleased with the results as we’ve had minimal disruption to our employees and customers.
CI: Did Blommer suspend production at any point during the pandemic? Or has production been continuous?
DM: When COVID-19 first appeared globally, Blommer increased stock levels to help anticipate any supply issues. Blommer was very focused on increasing inventory levels of packaged products in the first quarter of 2020 and has had nearly no impact on orders. Due to the layouts of the plants and automation of the facilities, there are very few workers that work in close proximity to one another. As a result, there have been minimal impacts to Blommer operations.
CI: Has Blommer had any trouble getting cocoa or other ingredients during the pandemic?
DM: With the help of Blommer’s great supplier relationships and S&OP practices, we were able to anticipate needs and have not had any challenges with acquiring ingredients.
CI: As the country gradually reopens over the coming weeks, will Blommer make any changes to safety protocols?
DM: Blommer is looking at all the measures that have been put in place that have helped us to successfully navigate the last few months to determine the best way forward. We are legitimizing the new normal and have no intention of reducing the measures we have put in place that ensure the safety of our employees.
CI: As the country reopens, what do you hope happens?
DM: We hope everyone keeps following all the safety protocols that help prevent the spread of the virus. The best thing people can do is continue practicing social distancing.
CI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DM: We are thinking of all of our customers, vendors, employees and partners who have had their personal situations and businesses impacted by this pandemic. We also want to thank all of the frontline medical workers who have helped get the virus under better control.
Chocolate has always been a source of joy and we’re glad that with everyone’s efforts, we can keep our plants running to keep sharing that joy!