GoodMills Innovation demonstrates how adapting to life under coronavirus restrictions is possible

Michael Gusko, Managing Director of GoodMills Innovation (pictured recently at FIE in Paris) offers some insights into how the business is responding to the coronavirus crisis as it continues to unfold around the world. 

With many countries under near-lockdown conditions, retail businesses and logistics chains across the food and drink sector have been severely affected by the pandemic, which has already impacted notably on economies around the world.

But it seems businesses are fighting back, adapting their manufacturing processes and continuing production schedules with revised working conditions, as GoodMills Innovation is proving.

Q:  What measures does your company take to ensure the health of the employees?
A: We have a whole bundle of measures in place for this, which are coordinated both nationally and internationally by several crisis teams. The top team consists of a multidisciplinary group that operates in a classic war room style. The main focus is on ensuring social distance. In practice, this means
 – external contact is reduced to a minimum, flights are currently prohibited, anyone who can should work from home, most meetings have been replaced by telephone and video conferencing.

The few remaining meetings, such as mandatory audits, now take place in oversized rooms where a minimum distance of 2 metres between people can be maintained. In product development, work is now done in two shifts instead of one; the two teams don’t actually see each other. Production is now completely isolated and the truck drivers who deliver our raw materials have to wear masks.

Q: How do you estimate the consequences particularly for your industry ̶ in the short and long run?

A: Everyone needs to eat, even in a crisis, but we can’t all play an equal role in terms of how much we can contribute. Owing to the fact that more food is being eaten at home, the retail trade and its suppliers will certainly benefit. By contrast, as a result of company closures, the traditional HoReCa segment will suffer dramatically. Although bakers are recording rising sales of baked goods, they’re missing out on the revenue derived from the high-margin coffee and snack business. The medium-term consequences depend on how long curfews and shutdowns last. A lockdown lasting several months will result in a wave of insolvencies. After that, I doubt that anything will be the same again.

How does the crisis affect your production and supply chains? How do you counteract the crisis effects?

A: Together with our sister companies, the GoodMills mills, we are one of the systemically important suppliers of basic foodstuffs. As such, an international supply of raw materials is guaranteed. Owing to a strong order pipeline, we’ve actually expanded our regular shift operations. Of course, local restrictions on international border traffic and extremely long waiting times will cause problems, and might mean that not enough truck drivers are available. Here, however, we benefit from the fact that grain delivery to almost all of our nine locations in Germany is trimodal; it can be delivered by truck, rail or ship, which provides additional security of supply.

What kind of regulations and /or support do you expect from the government?

A: As a company, we are less affected by the crisis than others and therefore do not expect any financial support. Aid must be prioritised, above all, to small and medium-sized companies, which have been hit particularly hard by plant closures and a slump in sales.

Are there any lessons you’ve learnt from the Coronavirus crisis?

The coronavirus crisis shows how vulnerable the global economy is and has exposed weaknesses in our systems and societies. It’s possible that the epidemic will put an end to the general carelessness often seen when handling food. For example, for the millennial generation, stockpiling has not been a major issue so far. Or, take supply chain security; if we shift the production of raw materials and products to low-cost geographies, such China or India, we may gain access to cheaper ingredients. But, in the event of a crisis, we may not be able to source any raw materials — or protective clothing or medicines — at all.

Q: In your opinion, are there any lessons the industry has to learn from the crisis? Where is the backlog demand in particular?
A: Every crisis puts a focus on what’s essential, what’s really important and what’s expendable. Crises are cathartic. It’s about the health of the individual. The current COVID-19 pandemic shows that we need to consider the link between the consumption of animal products and the emergence of epi- and pandemics: intensive farming increases the risk of pandemics. Whether swine flu, bird flu or corona, there will always be mutations that spread rapidly in our globalised world and then become difficult to contain. In addition, intensive animal husbandry threatens the efficacy of antibiotics, which could lead to further serious health risks in the future.

Q: Is there any special philosophy or approach of your company that has turned to good account in the crisis?

A: We rely on qualified and mature employees who are able to do their work independently; they are the backbone of our company. In times of crisis, agility and self-responsibility are paramount.

Does the current situation reveal any new approaches or ideas you want to implement in your company in the future?

A: Events such as these put many things into perspective. Are so many trips, trade shows and congresses essential? Which meetings can we hold via video conference? How can we efficiently integrate home office working into our daily routines?

• In your opinion, what kind of working culture/new ways of working are best suited to deal with crisis like the Coronavirus? How can they be put into practice for you?

The digitalisation of our work environments must be expedited, given the highest priority and be implemented according to a holistic strategy.

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