TORONTO — Kraft Dinner production lines at the Montreal plant responsible for supplying all of Canada’s mac-and-cheese supply are now working non-stop to produce 1 million extra boxes to meet an unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The engagement at the plant, I’ve never seen it this high,” plant manager Michelle Nguyen told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday.
Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic last week, panic buying has prompted shoppers to stockpile their pantries. Kraft Heinz, which produces Kraft Dinner, has seen a 35 per cent increase in demand for the pasta product and a 41 per cent spike in demand for peanut butter.
While some shoppers may be stressed, Nguyen said she and the 960 plant employees are feeling calm and prepared for whatever happens next.
“People are very proud. They feel they’re contributing to a noble cause, to serving the country. It’s really a feeling of serving the country,” she said.
Starting Monday, each employee will have their forehead scanned to check if they have a fever. The plant has even plotted three back-up plans in case of an internal COVID-19 outbreak.
If workers get sick or show symptoms, then other employees at the plant can be trained to fill in on the most vital product lines — KD and peanut butter. If those replacements fall sick, then mechanics will fill in. If the mechanics fall ill, then managers at the plant, including Nguyen, will be ready to take over.
“I’ll be the first one to raise my hand to stand in the lines and makes sure those cases get out,” she said. “If it never happens, if it’s tomorrow or two days, we are going to be so ready.”
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, which has now infected more than 1,000 Canadians, the factory pumped out about 3 million boxes of Kraft Dinner, five days per week. Now, the lines are running 24/7 and pumping out more than 4 million boxes.
It’s the same all-hands-on-deck approach for peanut butter, where workers are pumping out the product around the clock.
A spokesperson for Kraft Heinz said the company has seen a double-digit spike in demand for other products including Classico Pasta Sauce, Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Baby Food.The Montreal factory is responsible for producing 90 per cent of Heinz Kraft’s products for Canadian consumers.
And while all those extra weekend shifts during an already stressful time could be overwhelming for some, Nguyen insists that’s not the case at her plant.
“Everyone just feels very, very proud to be feeding 37 million Canadians,” she said. “Those 960 employees show up to work every day. To me, they are true heroes.”
A recent survey of 1,014 Canadians by Dalhousie University and Angus Reid found that, of the shoppers who bought provisions, dry and canned goods were at the top of the list, followed by sanitary products (such as toilet paper) and frozen foods.
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution policy at Dalhousie University, said Canadians shoppers should resist the urge to buy more than they need when at the grocery store.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re in for this for many months, so you’ve got to pace yourself,” he said.
He recommended that shoppers buy the same groceries as before, but pick up a few extra provisions, so they don’t need to visit the store as often. And while stocking up on snacks may be tempting, he said shoppers should try to keep meals in mind.
“You cant eat junk for three months, it’s not sustainable,” he said.
Regardless, the days of panic buying could soon be over. Many grocery stores, including Costco, are enforcing tight limits on how much of a particular product shoppers can buy. The hope is that such enforcements will mean there’s enough products to go around for everyone.
In the coming weeks, Charlebois expects a visit to the grocery store will be drastically different than anything shoppers have ever experienced.
“They’re going to treat grocery store like operating rooms in hospitals. Employees will be dressed in masks, there will be shields between employees and cashiers,” he said.
“I suspect people will want to go in and out as quickly as possible.”
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