Cargill Protein boss: ‘We are making decisions by the hour. I’ve been almost 30 years in the business and this is a unique situation’


By Elaine Watson, Food Navigator-USA



Meat giants Cargill Protein and Tyson Foods are flexing their supply chain muscles to adjust to a sudden shift in demand away from foodservice and towards retail as consumers stay at home.


Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA on Monday, Cargill chief risk officer Brian Sikes, who heads up the firm’s $22bn global protein* and salt businesses from Wichita, Kansas, said the typical 50:50 split in demand for meat & poultry between retail vs foodservice had “drastically shifted​” to around 85:15 in the space of a week.


“At Cargill we were probably at around 60:40 retail to foodservice before this​ [COVID-19] and we’ve had to shift from foodservice to meet retail demand. ​


“Net demand ​[from retail and foodservice combined] is also up slightly as it’s a bit of a herd mentality as freezers fill​, although we’ll see what happens two to three weeks from now.  But I want to reassure people that there’s plenty of meat in the system and we’re also producing more than we were a month ago to fill orders.​


“When demand probably becomes more stable in the next two to three weeks or so we’ll to try to build inventory ​[in case plants have to temporarily shut down for extra cleaning or due to staffing issues if employees get sick].”


Protecting staff​


Asked about protecting staff at manufacturing facilities, he added: “We’ve enhanced our protocols and followed all the CDC guidelines, extra sanitizing, eliminating visitors and so on, and we’re going to extend benefits as it relates to time off for COVID-19 cases, and we’ve been working with unions and others about recognizing and compensating our teams appropriately.”​


Should an employee at a Cargill facility test positive for COVID-19, he added, “Every person they came in contact with would have to be identified, was it on the shift, was it in the office, and so on, and then it’s a case of isolation, separation, sanitizing, and then you can get back up and running, maybe not that day, but as soon as you are cleared.”​


‘Global supply chains have performed quite well to date, but we have to keep watching’​


As for the global meat supply, he said: “If the two big producers in South America - Brazil and Argentina – are badly hit, you could see an impact if something happens there, but overall stocks are pretty good as we’re coming into this in pretty good shape. China has had some issues but from a demand standpoint they are starting to come back.”​


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