60-second interview: Jon Peters, president, Beneo

BENEO president: ‘We have seen higher and more volatile demand during the pandemic’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Beneo president Jon Peters: 'We are dealing with some logistical challenges such as fewer containers and reduced shift work at harbors'
Beneo president Jon Peters: 'We are dealing with some logistical challenges such as fewer containers and reduced shift work at harbors'

Related tags Beneo chicory root fiber Inulin isomalt COVID-19 coronavirus fibers Sweeteners

From fewer containers and reduced shift work at harbors to delays in planned maintenance in factories, the coronavirus pandemic is impacting global supply chains in myriad ways. FoodNavigator-USA (FNU) caught up with Jon Peters (JP), president at Beneo, a leading supplier of chicory root fiber, rice ingredients, and the specialty low-GI carbs Isomalt and Palatinose, to find out more.

FNU: What kind of supply chain challenges has coronavirus presented?

JP: We have seen higher and more volatile demand during the pandemic. Like many other industries, we are dealing with some logistical challenges, such as fewer containers and reduced shift work at harbors. We have also needed a strong, combined team effort to coordinate harvesting and mitigate delays to planned production works.  

FNU: Has BENEO experienced problems procuring key raw materials?

JP: So far, we have not seen any shortage affecting the procurement of raw materials. However, we have faced some challenges around the planned maintenance and engineering works in our factories. Due to the fact that third party companies were not allowed on our premises at the beginning of the crisis, these planned works have understandably been delayed.

 However, following the authorities’ latest decision to allow suppliers to the food chain to carry out necessary works, we have begun to catch up, although additional safety measures are slowing this progress a little.

The harvesting of chicory roots in Chile is a significant element in our supply chain. One issue we have faced here is that our harvest season began at virtually the same time the country went into lockdown as a result of the pandemic. However, despite this challenge, we are happy to say that things are currently running to plan thanks to the incredible efforts of our agronomy team in Chile. They have been focusing on safeguarding the social distancing of harvesting workers, not only on the field but also for their commute to and from work (which is traditionally done by the company). This has meant a much higher number of vans, the organisation of more drivers, the expansion of harvesting times to include early mornings and late nights, and much much more.

FNU: Was BENEO prepared for the upheaval caused by this pandemic?

JP: Of course, a situation like the coronavirus pandemic is difficult to prepare for. However, the fact that every production facility had a standard contingency plan in place, which we have been able to adapt to this situation, and therefore implement swiftly, has certainly helped us in many respects. This ranged from stock and inventory management and how to keep the factory running with fewer people, to managing shortfalls in inbound and outbound logistics.

FNU: How has coronavirus impacted innovation projects with customers/partners?

JP: Some customers continue as planned and in these cases we have found that it is often easier to interact with product development teams due to working from home office situations.

Other customers have delayed development projects as a result of needing to focus on operational challenges while others have decided to change innovation priorities or scheduled product launches due to COVID-19. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of health and the importance of nutrition on overall well-being.

FNU: What is your feeling about the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior?

From a consumer perspective, topics such as immune health, staying fit and healthy are all front of mind at present and therefore broader issues such as gut health and weight management are also of increased interest to them. As a science-driven provider of functional ingredients that promote health and wellbeing, we are glad to see that the voices of scientists worldwide are being heard in in the public arena, and this in the longer-term can only be of benefit to consumers and the food chain alike.  

FNU: What measures have you put in place to protect staff and ensure business continuity?

JP: As a food ingredients producer, the measures we have taken revolve around two main pillars: social distancing and increased hygiene and protection.

To ensure social distancing, we have, among other things, changed shifts and rotations, re-arranged work areas in the factories using plexiglass separations, colored stickers on the floor, and so on, instigated home office working for all possible administrative roles and provided additional transportation for harvest workers.

To enable our staff to balance childcare, home schooling, and work schedules, we have also worked with them to develop flexible working schedules and provided home office technology solutions where necessary. We are pleased to say that all our teams have embraced this new way of working.

Increased hygiene measures were introduced at a very early stage of the pandemic. We ensured that protective material was available such as masks, gloves and antiseptic soap, and that everyone knew how to use it correctly, if they were not already familiar with the processes due to our standard hygiene training. From this time on, all our safety measures have been continuously communicated in a friendly and clear way.

Our team leaders, especially in the production functions, are well-trained and able to answer any team questions. This has ensured the provision of help where needed at a local level and the clear communication of safety measures, ensuring the health of all our employees and their families at home.

As a result of all these measures, BENEO’s absence rates remain at normal seasonal level. Only very few staff are in quarantine for their - or their family members' - added safety.

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