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Major food producers say plants running 24/7 to keep up with Canadian demand

For Campbell’s Soup, since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer demand has soared, eclipsing that of the company’s busiest time. In March, there were more orders during one week than are typically seen in the entire month.

“Our plants are operating 24/7 right now, which is fairly unusual for April, to be honest,” said Beth Jolly, vice-president of communications at the company’s meal and beverages division, which includes Campbell Canada. “It’s really just been a dramatic shift to a full-out production increase.”

Demand for food, particularly non-perishable products, has surged as physical distancing measures keep Canadians close to home. Grocers are ordering more from manufactures, who like Campbell have hired more workers, increased operating hours and enacted other measures to increase production.

At Campbell’s, weekly case orders for that one week in March jumped about 366 per cent at the company’s meal and beverage division, Jolly said.

Kraft Heinz Canada, meanwhile, reported an 80 per cent increase in demand for its signature Kraft Dinner product last month compared to March 2019, the company says.

To meet that demand, both manufacturers had to make several changes to ramp up production.

Kraft’s Montreal-area production facility — where more than 90 per cent of its food for the Canadian market is produced — now operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said Av Maharaj, chief administrative officer for Kraft Heinz Canada.

The company is considering new ways to increase efficiency. It may prove simpler to produce only one type of packaging for Kraft Dinner rather than a variety of box designs, Maharaj said.

“From an efficiency perspective — you don’t want to stop your line, change packaging, build out the other one for a smaller packaging line,” he said. “But rather, produce the most popular brand, popular size and that gets more product to the market.”

More difficult is changing production lines. Demand is down from food service clients, such as restaurants and hotels. But transforming a food service production line to one making grocery products is not so simple.

Kraft typically makes about seven million Kraft Dinner boxes a month, according to the company. Last month, it made roughly 15 million.

Once the product is made another challenge is getting the extra goods to distribution centres and eventually grocery stores.

“Most food manufacturers don’t own their own trucks,” said Maharaj, and Kraft hires local trucking firms to transport its goods from production facilities to distribution centres.

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