KANSAS CITY — The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has unfolded in stages for food and beverage processors. The initial stages involved keeping manufacturing plants open and product moving to meet significant demand increases at retail. Now many companies are rewarding front-line employees for their efforts and seeking new employees to support the elevated pace of demand.

The added compensation is coming in different forms. Maple Leaf Foods, Inc., Toronto, for example, is providing hourly employees with a C$80 per week added payment in addition to their regular and overtime pay. Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., is paying more than $4 million in bonuses to its full- and part-time plant production employees.

"Our incredible team of more than 13,000 plant professionals is the backbone of our company and this special bonus is one way we can continue to thank them for how they have risen to the challenge and continue to produce food with a sense of purpose and pride," said James P. Snee, chairman, president and chief executive officer.

The J.M. Smucker Co., Orrville, Ohio, is paying a one-time “hardship award” of $1,500 to approximately 5,700 of its employees in manufacturing, distribution and other functions. The company also is providing 12 weeks of full pay and benefits continuation for employees whose manufacturing or distribution facility is closed or whose roles cannot be performed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We understand the uncertainty people are feeling right now, and are committed to do our part to ease some of that concern by supporting our employees and communities, while ensuring people and pets have access to a steady supply of food," said Mark Smucker, president and CEO of Smucker.

PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, NY, is paying employees of PepsiCo North America and PepsiCo Foods an incremental $100 per week for full-time workers over the next month. And like Smucker, PepsiCo employees who work at a facility that must close will receive 100% of their pay for up to 12 weeks, and employees who are impacted by school and daycare closings will receive a minimum of two-thirds of their pay for up to 12 weeks.

Mondelez International, Inc., East Hanover, NJ, is giving a $2 per hour pay increase to its manufacturing, distribution and sales hourly workforce based on hours worked through May 2. The company also is paying a $125 per week bonus to sales representatives.

Manufacturers also are adding employees to support its workforce. Mondelez International is in the process of hiring 1,000 US employees while PepsiCo, Inc. is adding 6,000 additional workers. The hiring initiatives are a bright spot in an otherwise dark employment picture. For the week ended March 21, a record 3.28 million workers applied for unemployment benefits. Many were laid off from businesses and industries that have had to close due to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

Community support critical

Food companies also are supporting communities through philanthropic efforts. Nestle SA, Vevey, Switzerland, entered a partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to donate food, medical nutrition products and bottled water to people in need. The company said it also will use available logistical capacities from its out-of-home business to support the needs of the IFRC in various countries.

"Now is the time to demonstrate the values of the Nestle family,” said Mark Schneider, CEO. “I am deeply impressed and humbled by what our team has accomplished in order to support individuals and communities affected by this crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global problem and consequently we are offering help on the ground everywhere, drawing on our extensive presence and experience in 187 countries.”

The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., has donated food and funds totaling $5 million for food relief efforts.

“In every region, our food bank partners are stretched to their limits,” wrote Kris Bahner, senior vice president of global corporate affairs, of the company’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. “They’re providing more food to more people, and they’re doing so without their strong network of volunteers. They need us now more than ever.”

On March 17, Conagra Brands, Inc., Chicago, donated more than 450,000 lbs of fried chicken to Feeding America. The company also has launched remote food drives from its Chicago and Omaha offices to local hunger relief agencies.

“The employee response to this call-to-action has been incredible, showcasing the tremendous passion and spirit of our employees to do the right thing to help our communities,” the company said.

Conagra Brands has made contributions totaling $1.75 million to organizations including Feeding America, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Food Bank for the Heartland in Omaha.

In addition to the weekly bonus it has provided to its hourly staff, Maple Leaf Foods has donated approximately C$2 million to support emergency food relief efforts and C$2.5 million in a fund to provide personal support to front line health providers during the crisis.

"In this global crisis, we are compelled to look beyond our business and do what we can to support the many dedicated people who continue to deliver the critical services we depend on, as well as the most vulnerable in our society," said Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods. "We encourage all companies with resources and capacity to do what they can to add their support. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in working alongside governments to fight this pandemic and restore our public and economic health."