By Paulina Sawarna
It’s now been almost six months since most of Canada was shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With it came uncertainty, fear, and a major shift in social interactions, and in how business is conducted, particularly for the foodservice industry. Fortunately, Kraft Heinz Canada was able to leverage its experience to quickly adapt and manage rapidly-changing demands.
“We were learning through our customers,” says Thomas Heitz, corporate chef at Kraft Heinz Canada.
Chances are, you already know who they are
To say Kraft Heinz has iconic brands would be an understatement.
“Where to begin? If you’re having peanut butter, there’s a pretty good chance it’s Kraft Peanut Butter. If you’re using ketchup, there’s a pretty good chance it’s Heinz Ketchup. If you’re eating cream cheese, there’s a big chance it’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese,” says Heitz.
The company, a top food manufacturer in Canada, produces everything from sauces, to processed cheeses to condiments to table spreads and everything in between.
COVID: Switching gears
Almost overnight, the government passed safety regulations that forced the shutdown of indoor and outdoor dining. As a result, restaurants and bars had to quickly shift their business models towards delivery and take-out options only, which meant most food and beverage menus were drastically reduced.
“The foodservice side of our business was absolutely devastated,” says Heitz.
From their side, Kraft Heinz had to quickly find solutions to decreasing inventory levels.
“We were talking very closely to our customers, seeing how they were pivoting and changing in reaction to the pandemic, and we were looking at ways we could better support them,” says Heitz. “With COVID there was a heightened focus on hygiene and cleanliness. As a result, we started seeing an uptick in our tabletop and single-serve formats. That’s where we pivoted as well, trying to help our customers and meet new demands.”
From a manufacturing perspective, Kraft Heinz was well-equipped to respond as they were following the very strict regulations already in place. When the pandemic hit, they ran an even tighter operation by investing in expanded cleaning protocols, PPE and other protective equipment such as face shields.
“It was a very rigorous process to begin with, and we’ve added extra measures to ensure we didn’t have any issue,” says Heitz.
Not all bad news
“On the retail side, because Canadians were stocking up, we saw an increase in demand for our brands that Canadians love and trust,” adds Heitz.
The company quickly noticed that what people were turning to was comfort food and the kind of meals that they grew up with, especially during the early onslaught of the pandemic.
“Kraft Dinner was flying off the shelves! Our plant in Montreal was working around the clock and producing up to 400 boxes of KD a minute,” says Heitz.
The food giant is still seeing comfort food as the top driver in retail sales, even as things are getting back to so-called normal. However, it has observed a slight shift back towards a more sustainable way of eating, including functional food and plant-based proteins.
“It’s still there and it will come back once the pandemic subsides,” adds Heitz. “Right now, people are going with brands they love and trust and food that makes them feel good.”
A lot of companies, big and small, have had to tweak or entirely redefine their business strategies as a result of the global pandemic. And that’s exactly what Kraft Heinz did, and quickly.
“Sometimes, these programs that shape companies, take 6 months to a year to launch, but we’re now initiating and launching initiatives within 3 to 4 weeks,” says Heitz. “We’ve been able to strengthen our relationships with customers, react quickly and go to market faster than ever before.”
The office model has also shifted towards the digital. It used to be common practice for Kraft Heinz to send samples to customers and taste those products with them at their offices. In the age of social distancing, the corporate chef now finds himself sending samples directly to clients’ homes, and jumping on a video call where everyone tastes the products at the same time on camera and they follow up with a discussion about the process.
While such situations may now require a few extra steps, Kraft Heinz has observed that the pandemic has created scenarios where, actually, things are working better than ever before.
“We’re seeing a business model where we can be in the office 2 or 3 days a week and we can be working from home the rest of the time, so it’s creating a different work-life balance. People are discovering that there’s this hybrid of best practices of doing business that is coming out after COVID. It’s about being agile and adaptable.”