Sandy: Food companies dodge major interruptions

by Staff
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KANSAS CITY — As Hurricane Sandy raged across the East coast on Monday and Tuesday, food and beverage companies took precautionary steps to not only ensure the safety of their employees, but to make sure adequate contingency plans were in place to deliver product.

While the death toll from Sandy in the United States climbed to 18 as of Oct. 30 and at least 7.4 million people across the East were without electricity, the food and beverage industry appeared to escape the brunt of the storm. In many cases, companies closed operations ahead of the storm, or sustained only minor power outages.

At H.J. Heinz Co., which has headquarters in Pittsburgh and locations along the East coast, offices and factories remained open for business.

“We had a few sporadic power outages, however all of our facilities are operating without issue,” said Michael Mullen, vice-president of corporate communications at H.J. Heinz Co. “As we do with any severe weather situation, we are encouraging our employees to use good judgment when it comes to travel conditions and the personal safety of themselves and their families.”

General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, said it postponed production at three manufacturing facilities on the East coast Monday, but expects to bring all three back online today. The company said it also is working with our retailers to re-stock their shelves.

Trading in millfeed, a flour milling byproduct, was hindered in the region by the storm. A trader based in Buffalo said most millfeed buying and selling in the Northeast was still at a halt following Hurricane Sandy making landfall in Southern New Jersey Monday night. Rain and sharp wind gusts inland in Upstate and Western New York passed through Tuesday morning and were mostly gone by noon Tuesday.

The trader said mills near coastal areas such as Baltimore, Boston and New York remained closed, as did scattered soft wheat mills in Pennsylvania. But he said some large mills farther inland that were closed Monday were coming back on line late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

The trader said the widespread downtimes did not appear to be creating supply tightness because wheat grind last weekend was heavy and demand remained slack, as it has been for several days.

Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands said it has “very thorough plans” in place to ensure adequate resources are deployed to support stores affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“Our operations team has been in close contact with our franchisees throughout the storm, and it appears that our franchisees and their employees are safe,” Dunkin’ Brands said. “Very few restaurants have closed. Any closures have been due largely to power outages or as a result of evacuations in affected areas. The majority of our restaurants are open and taking care of their customers.”

Applebee’s, which is the world’s largest casual dining chain with approximately 2,000 locations in 49 states, issued a statement on Oct. 29 saying the company and its franchisees “have taken proactive steps to ensure the safety of our team members and guests related to Hurricane Sandy. Restaurants are closed in areas with an imminent threat, and those that may be impacted are operating in accordance with direction from public safety officials.”

Watson, Inc., a bakery ingredients supplier based in West Haven, Conn., shut down its offices on Monday, but re-opened on Tuesday morning.

“Thank you to all of our customers for your understanding yesterday,” the company said. “We apologize for any inconvenience that we may have caused. The good news is that we did not lose power at our West Haven facilities. We also have phone services and our building sustained no damages. The sun is coming out and that is also encouraging.”

Horizon Milling L.L.C., the nation’s largest flour milling company said its employees in the Northeast are “safe and accounted for,” and the company’s mills do not appear to have sustained damage.

“Some of our mills lost power intermittently over night, but all currently have power now,” said Lori Fligge, a spokesperson for Horizon. “We are continuing to monitor road conditions as we work to deliver loads to customers.”

Keith Hancock, spokesperson for Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods, Inc., said before the storm made landfall the company’s teams in the region have been working around the clock to serve the markets that are being affected.

“For the safety of our employees and associates, our two bakeries in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Oxford) have been shut down until the storm passes, but all other bakeries are operating at this time,” Mr. Hancock said. “We are monitoring the progress of the storm and will be ready to supply the market as soon as we can safely do so.”

Meanwhile, Quincy, Mass.-based Bay State Milling Co. closed its corporate offices ahead of the storm and shut down operations at its Clifton, N.J., mill, said Peter Levangie, president and chief operating officer.

Mr. Levangie said the Clifton mill is not taking deliveries or shipping, and Bay State will continue to evaluate the situation amid what looks to be “a big storm.” Elsewhere, the company’s other eastern mills, in Indiantown, Fla., and Mooresville, N.C., are running without interruption, he said.

Decatur, Ill.-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. said its mills were all running, but some of the company’s clients were not. Some roads have been closed, but some have since been re-opened.

“We will get flour to our clients when it is safe to do so,” ADM said.

Bill Stoufer, president of ConAgra Mills, said most of the company’s easter n flour mills were closed for a day ahead of the storm in order to keep employees safe.

“One mill remains closed today due to a power outage,” he said. “There were no significant damages to our facilities. Because of our large network of mills throughout the country, this will not impact our ability to meet customer needs for our products.”

The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., said Tuesday it was committing $500,000 to relief efforts. The donation includes a $250,000 cash contribution from Kellogg's Corporate Citizenship Fund to the American Red Cross and $250,000 in food to Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity.

“Our thoughts are with all those impacted by Hurricane Sandy as they manage through this difficult time,” said Kris Charles, vice-president of global communications and philanthropy for the Kellogg Company. “The Red Cross and Feeding America will be providing critical aid over the coming weeks and we want the organizations, and those affected most, to know they can count on Kellogg for help.”
Transportation, an area that will have a direct impact on a number of food and beverage companies trying to transport product, will be a particularly tough challenge, he said.

In an Oct. 29 statement, President Barack Obama said the government is making sure that food and water and emergency generation is available for those communities that are going to be hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.

“Transportation is going to be tied up for a long time,” Mr. Obama said. “And probably the most significant impact for a lot of people, in addition to flooding, is going to be getting power back on. We anticipate that there are going to be a lot of trees down, a lot of water. And despite the fact that the power companies are working very closely with their various state officials and local officials to make sure that they are bringing in as many assets as possible and getting those ready in preparation for the storm, the fact is that a lot of these emergency crews are not going to be able to get into position to start restoring power until some of these winds have died down. And because of the nature of this storm, that may take several days.”

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