As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to upend lives and livelihoods around the world, businesses are already looking ahead.

More than three-quarters of food and beverage executives in North America are actively preparing for the next global pandemic, and half are expecting another one in the next decade, according to a study released earlier this year by AIB International.

But clearly that’s not the only crises that bakeries need to consider. More severe weather events like hurricanes, fires and floods threaten areas while concerns like recalls, cyberattacks, workplace violence and more are all contingencies that companies must prepare for and manage.

“We’re sort of experiencing crises that are evolving over time,” said Jennifer Colfelt, vice president, operations and membership for the American Bakers Association (ABA). “One thing is you have to always remain nimble and flexible as you’re trying to work through these things. We’ve certainly gone through unprecedented times, so there’s not really a strategy book already written in terms of how you manage.”

But businesses must figure out how to plan for these by doing their research and developing an action plan when things do go awry.

The importance of clear, consistent communication is vital to weathering any crisis, and it was a theme that many emphasized, including Ms. Colfelt when talking about the COVID-19 response.

“One of our key goals was overcommunicating because we felt like information is power and that’s really what is important in those times of crisis,” she said. “And I think that’s how we continue to view this as it continues to evolve and, honestly even as we’re starting to think through what might be coming down the road.”

At Tippin’s Gourmet Pies in Kansas City, Kan., communications have been a cornerstone while operating during the pandemic, with bilingual memos to accommodate the Spanish speakers and thorough explanations of policies.

“We really tried to keep people informed. We made a lot of postings around the building. At one point we were doing near weekly bulletins to our team members that got handed out every Friday,” said Jim Antrup, vice president of sales and marketing at Tippin’s. “Probably the biggest learning is not to just communicate what we’re doing but communicate why we’re doing it.”

Companies also should keep communication lines open with fellow bakers, government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and local health authorities, and professional groups like the ABA.

“We always made sure to be communicating as quickly and effectively as we could to our membership without honestly overwhelming them,” Ms. Colfelt said. “We all knew that they were having to deal with so much.”

Mr. Antrup, who took a leading role during the pandemic at Tippin’s, said he spent a lot of time reading information online, watching webinars and listening to national and local health officials.

Professional groups have been a big help to Anne Cookson, vice president of sales and marketing and co-owner of Baker’s Quality Pizza Crusts, Milwaukee, during the pandemic.

“My brother and I run a food industry roundtable in Milwaukee. We relied heavily on that group, just bouncing advice back and forth, especially when it came to the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, figuring out all the bureaucracy that went around that,” Mrs. Cookson said. “It really was just people we knew in the industry. ‘What are you doing? How are you managing this?’ ... I think having sounding boards was our most valuable asset.”

The ABA emphasized the importance of having a trusted resource to lean on. The organization has reached out to members in several ways during the pandemic, including phone calls, webinars, podcasts and establishing a LinkedIn Forum. The ABA has provided information in several areas, including toolkits for the pandemic and supply chain issues. These kits include things like sample documents for bakeries to use when they need to communicate information to employees, such as when an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

“For a lot of our outreach to our members, it turned into just having a friendly voice who they knew was there to help,” Ms. Colfelt said.

And team members within bakeries leaned on each other for advice, ideas and support. As a young executive at Amoroso’s Baking Co. in Philadelphia, Jesse Amoroso, vice president, soaked up as much knowledge as he could from company veterans, he told the ABA’s Bake to the Future podcast in June of last year.

“I’m trying to lean on and lean into as much experience as I can get access to,” he said. “We’re really trying to have as many open conversations with folks in our organization to improve what we’re doing. It’s often true that the folks doing the actual work — day in and day out — are the ones who truly know the changes that need to be made.”

This article is an excerpt from the August 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Crisis Management, click here.