COVID-19 has caused people to buy large quantities of dry food products with a long best before date, such as rice and pasta. This puts quite the pressure on food companies, where loads of teams are doing everything they can to keep up with the high demand. Our associates in SupplyChain feel the change in pace, above all those working at the production sites. One of them is located in Belgium, here’s how they are dealing with these exceptional circumstances.
The Uncle Ben’s® rice factory in Olen (near Antwerp) has been at the heart of Mars’ rice manufacturing for over 40 years now. As one of the two main rice production sites for Mars, Olen provides not only Europe but also other parts of the world with top quality rice. Our associates there have faced a lot of challenges over the years, but the current peculiar circumstances require a whole new way of thinking and acting. Here’s how the team over there is facing these daunting times.
Avoiding empty shelves
"Our first priority is the safety and well-being of employees," says Markus Gogg, Plant Director at Uncle Ben's Olen. "Rice has a long shelflife so everyone here expected demand to rise. It makes me humble and grateful that our associates wanted to help try avoid empty shelves in the stores, as a way of reassuring the consumer".
"Everyone, both on-site and at home, give their all every day to keep rice production at the maximum level,“ Markus continues. “Without their continuous energy and without the good cooperation with suppliers and partners, the supply would simply grind to a halt. Fevia, the Belgian food industry federation, launched a platform that shines a light on the efforts of everyone in our industry. They use the term #FoodHeroes and as far as we’re concerned that campaign hits it right on the nose: everyone working and giving their best on a daily basis in these times are real heroes".
To support our own #FoodHeroes in Olen, the local management team took measures early on to keep the working environment as safe as possible. Markus: "We took the first steps at the beginning of March, when the coronavirus started to emerge in Belgium. As the situation changed, we expanded these with additional measures. For example, we measure the body temperature of each employee on site before they are allowed in and apply a strict social distancing rule of at least two metres. If that is not possible, a mouth mask is required. In addition, we provide disinfection gel everywhere, everyone eats at separate tables and maintains the compulsory distance during the lunch and coffee breaks.”
In order to maintain the mental wellbeing of our associates, there are also a number of initiatives. "Creating team moments via video call, digital coffee breaks, energy breaks and town halls with the entire site team, we try to keep people connected and informed," explains Markus. "This way, we want to show that no one is alone. We're doing this together! That's why we have an applause moment every day for everyone at work, especially the colleagues who continue to work on site in Olen. With the applause we want show our appreciation, and how grateful and proud of them we are. That is often implicit, but in these peculiar times we feel that gratitude can and must be shown explicitly".
What drives our associates to keep going?
Who are our #FoodHeroes in Olen and what do they think of this exceptional situation? We asked three of them to put it into words:
Davy van Goethem, Process Operator (pictured left): "I think it's important that I continue to work. I see that as my responsibility. Now, more than ever, it is essential and reassuring for people to have rice available and I think it's my job to contribute to making that happen".
Annick Engelen, Office Services (pictured in the middle): "What drives me to come to work in these difficult times is the team spirit. We’ve got each other’s backs, and feel more than ever a deep kinship. Our reception is now equipped as a safe 'island', so we feel protected. I heard that the production staff greatly appreciate the fact that we are still welcoming them at the reception. That's a great feeling and it motivates me to keep going!”
Lieven Schelles, Packaging Operator (pictured right): "In these exceptional times, our job is essential. This is not 'work for the sake of work'. Rice is the basis of many dishes, especially now that consumers are looking even more than usual for products with a longer best before date. By doing my job, I help ensure that everyone can continue to use this basic product".