COVID-19: Inventory planning the name of the game as sales of food staples surge

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

COVID-19: Inventory planning the name of the game as sales of food staples surge

Related tags: plant-based milk, Ripple Foods, Elmhurst, COVID-19, coronavirus

Inventory planning is the name of the game right now in packaged staples as brands dealing with sudden surges in demand owing to COVID-19 try to predict how long current buying patterns might last.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA Thursday, Ripple Foods​ co-founder Adam Lowry said: “Demand​ [for Ripple plant-based milks] is way up in bricks & mortar stores and the online business ​[via Amazon and Fresh Direct] has gone completely bananas, as is the case with any consumer staple right now. But what everyone is trying to figure out is how sustained is that lift?

“Obviously people are pantry loading right now, but will we see a dip later on as people go through stock they’ve already bought, or will we see fundamental shifts​ [as eating outside the home dries up and at-home consumption picks up the slack]?

“We’re making sure we have secured the capacity to be able to support sustained lifts for the next several months and creating plans for how to dial that back if we see trends returning to normal.”

Co-packing: ‘I imagine there’s a bit of a land grab going on right now for line time’

He added: “We’re having daily sales and operations planning meetings instead of weekly or bi-weekly and making the decision to strategically invest a bit more in pre-finished foods inventory so we can be ready for higher volumes.”

So far, Ripple has been able to work with co-packers to adjust to increased demand, he said, “But I can imagine there’s a bit of a land grab going on right now for line time ​[at many co-manufacturing facilities] right now.”

‘If you don’t have a strong point of difference and you’re higher priced, you’ll really get eaten by private label and value offerings’

While purchasing behavior changes during times of economic hardship, said Lowry - who co-founded upmarket household products brand Method and steered it through the 2007/8 recession - what matters in such times is whether brands are providing value.

While dairy alternatives are more expensive than dairy milk, they are now an established part of the market, and in the case of Ripple, provide protein, DHA and vitamins and minerals, as well as allergy-friendly, sustainable credentials, he said.

“As long as you bring real value, and you’re differentiated, then you can come out much stronger, whereas if you don’t have a strong point of difference and you’re higher priced, you’ll really get eaten by private label and value offerings.”

Mamma Chia: ‘Online sales have seen 400-500% growth’

Mamma Chia​ – which makes premium organic functional beverages and snacks and recently launched a chiamilk​– has seen “increased purchases of our Organic Chia Squeezes and Organic Chia Beverages as consumers respond to how COVID-19 developments are playing out in their lives,” ​said CEO Janie Hoffman.

“For instance, looking at weekly sales at brick-and-mortar stores, Mamma Chia’s organic products are up over 75% in comparison to just two weeks ago. Online sales have seen 400-500% growth.”

Chiamilk and Coffee
Janie Hoffman: “The launch of our Organic Chiamilk in Sprouts was completed and hit shelves before retailers halted resets and is also now available in several UNFI and KeHE warehouses.”

While it’s not the greatest time to be introducing new products, she conceded, “The launch of our Organic Chiamilk in Sprouts was completed and hit shelves before retailers halted resets and is also now available in several UNFI and KeHE warehouses.”

Asked whether she was concerned about the longer-term impact on sales should we enter a period of recession, she said: “Now more than ever, as consumers are looking to stay healthy, they are clearly filling up their cupboards with brands that they trust and know will support their bodies’ needs.”

‘We are overcommunicating with one another’

On a more practical note, she said: “Thankfully, we had prepared our employees to be able to work from home and trained them on Zoom ​[video conferencing platform]. As of Monday ​[March 16] we began telecommuting and working from home. It is going smoothly and the team feels very supported and set-up for success.

“We are overcommunicating with one another, but in a positive, productive and supportive way. We believe that we will get through this, and as a company and culture, will be the better for it.”

Elmhurst 1925: 300-400% surge in online sales

Plant-based milk brand Elmhurst 1925​ has seen a 300-400% surge in online sales and is offering consumers free delivery on online orders through March 31, said chief marketing officer Peter Truby.

elmhurst oat latte
Elmhurst 1925 new oat lattes are available online but were due to launch into retail propelled by Expo West

Boasting an ultra-clean label (its oatmilk contains water, whole grain oats, and salt) and higher levels of the source ingredients (almonds, cashews, oats etc) than competitors, Elmhurst is one of the fastest growing brands in the burgeoning plant-based milk market, said Truby.

However, a wave of new innovations the brand was planning to debut at Expo West are likely not going to get broad distribution as quickly as bosses had hoped as retailers focus attention on keeping shelves stocked and buyer meetings and shelf resets are delayed or canceled, he said.

We had two new ready to drink lines – oat lattes and single serve oatmilks – and new oatmilk creamers, all ready to launch at Expo, but like many brands, we’ve had to pivot.”

Amazon Prime Pantry closing temporarily

Their comments came as Amazon said it was temporarily closing due to overwhelming demand.

amazon pantry

In a statement on its website​, Amazon said: "Due to high order volumes, Pantry is not accepting new orders at this time. This means that items listed as 'Ships & Sold from Pantry' cannot be added to your cart. We apologize for this inconvenience, and are working with our partners to get these items back in stock as quickly as possible."

But it added: "You can still shop for household staples and other essentials through the following stores: Fresh​, Whole Foods​, Grocery​ or Household products​. At this time, due to high demand, our other stores may have limited availability and delivery.

"If you placed a Pantry order recently and are waiting on delivery, you will still receive your shipment."

Raley's: 'We are mass hiring for our eCart teams across many locations'

2020-03-20 08_52_31-MASS HIRING - Personal Shoppers for Online Orders _ Raley's _ LinkedIn

Food retailers are also scrambling to meet demand for online deliveries, advertising 'immediate openings' for delivery drivers and personal shoppers.

In an ad on linkedin with the title, MASS HIRING - Personal Shoppers for Online Orders, Raley's explains: "We are mass hiring for our eCart teams across many locations! Apply, interview and start your new job within 1 week or less!

"If your income has been impacted due to current events or if you’re looking for part time work, Raley's has opportunities for you to earn an income and serve our communities. We are hiring for other positions which will receive an expedited hiring process."

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