Food producers are hiring and going green despite the pandemic

Food companies have been doing the unexpected for the past few weeks: hiring new workers and switching to environmentally sustainable packaging

Food-makers have experienced increased demand for snack products causing them to hire more production workers to meet demand while balancing employee safety. 

Campbell’s chief executive informed the Wall Street Journal that his company will hire more production workers to keep up with rising demand for its products, including Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers. 

Mark Clouse, Campbell’s CEO, told attendees at the Wall Street Journal Global Food Forum, “

“We know the demand for goldfish is going to continue to be at an elevated level.”

Goldfish is a small slice of explosive growth in the snack market as consumers continue to adjust to working from home. Snack sales have exploded during the coronavirus pandemic as companies like PepsiCo report billions of dollars in profit and expect growth upwards of five percent in the coming months. In late July, cereal and snack maker Kellogg reported a net income of $351 million. 

An increase in sales led to a rise in production and hiring, which presents another COVID-era challenge: keeping employees safe. 

To mitigate risks, companies like Kellogg have begun distributing information to employees on how to remain safe outside its facilities and while traveling during the winter holidays. Others, like Kraft Mac and Cheese, have instituted strict coronavirus safety regimens of handwashing, requiring workers to stand six feet apart, and mandating employees wear protective gear. 

Meanwhile, meatpacking plants are using the ongoing pandemic as a catalyst for investing in automation to reduce exposure for their essential employees. 

Food companies are tackling another challenge, keeping food fresh while pushing for environmentally sustainable products. 

Companies have increasingly switched to paper products as they face scrutiny from environmentally conscious consumers and legislative pressure. The trend can be seen in cities like San Francisco and New York, which have banned plastic products like bags and straws. 

However, the switch to paper isn’t seamless.

Plastics remains the preferred material among food companies for its durability, flexibility, and cost. The main draw is its ability to preserve products with a rapidly diminishing shelf life, such as instant coffee and baby food products. 

Paper lacks the protective properties that make plastic so attractive. It’s not easy to seal, resistant to water and grease, and is prone to tears. Some have noted that switching to paper decreases profit margins as items wrapped in paper traditionally have a shorter shelf life. 

“Plastics are highly functional,” said Patrick Lindner, chief innovation officer at Atlanta-based WestRock, a paper and plastics packaging company to the Wall Street Journal. “Getting paper to behave like plastic is a tremendous technological challenge.” 

Swiss food company Nestlé has experimented with using paper coated to have properties like plastic for their Yes! snack bars and Nesquik cocoa powders. The company continues to use plastic for its instant coffee and baby food products, citing the lack of technology to promote shelf life for these products. 

Food companies like Nestlé face little option but to continue using plastic for most products. However, alternatives can be used in relatively mild climates, such as Europe and the United States. 

Companies are also looking to plastic linings made by Dublin-based Smurfit Kappa Group as another alternative. Tide currently uses the lining in its bag-in-a box version of laundry detergent. Smurfit Kappa believes that linings are safer and more cost-effective than coatings as they reduce waste and lower production costs. 

“We have a very pure system with not a lot of waste that’s economically working and sustainable,” said the company’s innovation head, Arco Berkenbosh, to the Wall Street Journal. “Any pollution that comes in there makes the system less efficient.”

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