Big Food and coronavirus: The response so far

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

The world's largest food manufacturers are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in a number of ways from providing materials to produce 50,000+ surgical masks to waived healthcare fees for COVID-19 related doctors' visits.
The world's largest food manufacturers are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in a number of ways from providing materials to produce 50,000+ surgical masks to waived healthcare fees for COVID-19 related doctors' visits.

Related tags coronavirus COVID-19 Big Food Pepsico Coca-cola

Over the past few weeks, big food manufacturers have leveraged the strength of their operations and logistics capabilities to combat the spread of COVID-19. Many are also supporting their employees with additional compensation, cash bonuses, waived health care fees, and financial support for childcare services. Below is a roundup of some of the top food companies’ responses to the global pandemic.

PepsiCo: All hands on deck

In addition to hiring 6,000 full-time employees​ to work across its US operations and providing additional compensation to frontline employees, PepsiCo also announced late last week that is committing more than $45m in COVID-19 relief worldwide. 


Through the PepsiCo Foundation, the company is investing $15.8m in North America, which now has the most recorded cases of COVID-19 in the world. The investment will primarily focus on providing increased access to nutrition to the millions of school-aged children who are now at home, 22 million of whom receive low-cost or free meals through the US National School Lunch Program.

The company is also funding protective gear for healthcare workers in the US, investing in testing and screening services, and providing financial support for US restaurant workers who are experiencing joblessness.

“This unprecedented crisis requires all hands on deck, and companies have a big role to play in directing critical resources to the most vulnerable,”​ said Ramon Laguarta, chairman and CEO PepsiCo. 

“Food is at the heart of what PepsiCo does, and we believe the best way we can support communities during this difficult time is by leveraging our expertise and capabilities, along with help from our partners, to bring food to our neighbors who need it most. We’re activating our global resources to do this now and provide other essential relief, and we will continue to do so as the world unites to tackle COVID-19.”

Click HERE​ for more information about PepsiCo’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

Coca-Cola produces PET plastic to make 50,000+ surgical face masks for healthcare workers

Coca-Cola has implemented additional cleaning and sanitization routines, focusing on high-touch surfaces, and has taken steps to restrict visitors to its facilities.

“We are taking extra precautions to ensure products are handled hygienically at every step, from manufacturing facilities to customer outlets,”​ said the company.

Specific measures include providing employees with alcohol wipes and hand sanitizers; installing temperature screening in certain offices and manufacturing facilities; and setting up health-monitoring mechanisms in affected regions.

"In some locations, delivery drivers do not leave their trucks, reducing person-to-person interactions. Some manufacturing plants have implemented split shifts to avoid shift-to-shift contact,"​ said Coca-Cola.

Last week, Coca-Cola announced​ that it has begun manufacturing and providing essential supplies to frontline responders and healthcare workers including producing 6,000 lbs of clear PET sheeting to manufacture 50,000+ protective surgical shields. The company is also producing hand sanitizer at an Iowa bottling facility to donate to the University of Iowa Hospital system.

In partnership with MakeIt Labs and packaging supplier Sonoco, Coca-Cola also helped transport 6,000 pounds of plastic sheeting from Sonoco’s warehouse in North Carolina to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Photo Credit: Coca-Cola


“We have reinforced hygiene and exposure guidelines with our employees. If we become aware that an employee is ill or had direct or indirect contact with someone with COVID-19, we will immediately implement our isolation and sanitization protocols and will begin any necessary quarantines, in line with guidance from local health officials,” ​the company said.

In addition, The Coca-Cola Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The Coca-Cola Company, is awarding $13m grants to five nonprofit organizations working on the front lines of the US and Canadian humanitarian response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kraft Heinz: Shifting production priorities

Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio announced last Friday that the company has “significantly reduced production”​ at three of its plants providing restaurant supplies and added shifts to other manufacturing plants to meet the need for more packaged food.

According to Patricio, Kraft Heinz has now boosted output of its packaged food products to meet the demand for macaroni and cheese in the US.

In March, the company announced a donation valued at $6.6m, which included $1.9m in cash donated to Feeding America and $4.7m worth of donated products including Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Heinz Gravy, Planters Nut Mixes, DEVOUR frozen meals, and a number of other items, which will be provided to Feeding America member food banks.

General Mills prioritizes employee health & safety and stable food production output

General Mills announced a series of actions last week to support its employees in response to COVID-19 including:

  • An opportunity for corporate employees to work at manufacturing plants
  • Enhanced benefits for plant employees, including a daily bonus provided to production-essential plant employees who are working on-site, in effect for a minimum of four weeks and will continue to be evaluated as the situation evolves.
  • Employees will receive two weeks of paid leave under conditions including voluntary or mandated quarantine, school closure for a child, medical risk, and suspended work as a result of COVID-19.
  • In several locations, the company will provide childcare consultations with employees to address childcare concerns, including flexible work schedules.
  • $5m in charitable grants by the General Mills Foundation to support food access in key global markets and support for our manufacturing communities around the world

“Our most important objectives are the continued health and safety of our employees and our ongoing ability to serve our consumers around the world. We see it as imperative that we help ensure a steady and reliable food supply for people and pets,”​ said Jeff Harmening, chairman and CEO of General Mills.

Tyson Foods issues cash bonuses to frontline workers

Tyson Foods, Inc. announced last week it will pay approximately $60m in bonuses to 116,000 frontline workers and Tyson truckers in the US who have supported the company’s daily operations to provide food during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Eligible team members will receive a $500 bonus, payable during the first week of July.

The bonuses are in addition to other company-announced efforts and safety measures Tyson Foods has implemented in response to COVID-19.

The company is restricting visitor access to its facilities and relaxed its attendance policy to reinforce the importance of staying home when sick or to meet childcare needs. It has implemented the use of temporal thermometers to check the temperature of team members before they enter company facilities and expects delivery of infrared temperature scanners following a successful trial.

In addition, the company is offering protective face coverings for production workers who request them and is working with the CDC on additional guidance on the use of personal protective equipment. 

Tyson Foods, which has mandatory health care coverage, is waiving the five consecutive day waiting period for short term disability benefits, so workers can receive pay while they’re sick with the flu or COVID-19. In addition, it is:

  • Waiving the co-pay, co-insurance and deductible for doctor visits for COVID-19 testing as well as eliminating pre-approval or preauthorization steps.
  • Waiving co-pays for the use of telemedicine.
  • Relaxing refill limits for 30-day prescriptions of maintenance medication. 

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