How Nestlé came out on top during COVID-19

When you’re a big conglomerate like Nestlé, reputation is key – not just in terms of the products  you produce, but how you look after staff.

Nestlé is a world-renowned food and beverage company, which means it is a vital industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. This also means it has to go through a lot of adjustments when it comes to the processing and manufacturing of products.

Alain Riesterer is the company’s Technical and Production director and has worked all over the globe in many different environments. He knows how important it is to keep staff safe, which is why the company implemented strategies before the pandemic hit that in turn meant the teams were anticipating a number of challenges that lay ahead.

“Since the beginning of COVID our operations have run full,” he said. “We have not had a single day of shut down because one of our main reasons of existence is to supply food to the population. That is very clear in this situation of crisis. We have seen several countries where there were potential food scarcity situations, which is why it was important for us to be able to supply food to the communities.”

From an operations point of view in, the company’s seven factories in Australia started with best hygiene practices and standards – that included additional hand washing and sanitation for hands with alcohol-based solutions. Also, from the beginning of the crisis, Nestlé implemented mandatory temperature control at the entry of all of its premises.

“We have also created a Team A and Team B structure in every single one of our operations in order to ensure the social distancing,” said Riesterer.

“We have a rule of two metres, some companies have a rule of 1.5m. In some places in our operation we could not ensure the 2m, so we went into physical barrier installation such as plexiglass separation between our employees.”

Team A and Team B were implemented by the company’s head office first. It has also implemented shift patterns on site at its factories – a morning shift, afternoon shift and night shift. Senior staff ensure that the shifts are consistent with start and end times with the same people so there is minimum cross-over. This means less risk of any cross-contamination between a staff member who might inadvertently come to work infected.
Riesterer said that a lot of the practices that the company has implemented, such as social distancing and physical separation between its employees, will stay and probably never go back to the way things were.

“At the end of the day, it is part of good hygiene practice. We also learned a lot and we proved that we could operate with these new circumstances,” he said. “We also ensure that between the shifts – the cross over – is limited to the bare minimum so we don’t have any potential cross-contamination between the different people.”

Panic buying can produce its own set of problems, mainly in terms of the supply chain and with raw and packaging materials. Luckily, Nestlé was also prepared in that instance, too.

“We did have some raw materials that were coming from overseas and we reacted very fast at the very beginning in increasing our stock cover,” he said. “Fortunately for our factories in Australia, we did not have any major disruption. We followed closely what was happening with raw and packaging material in different countries worldwide. At the moment we have certain raw materials coming from the US and we will increase our stock cover in advance. We have managed a very fluent supply during these last three months without major disruption.”

With a lot of uncertainty around the markets in many industries, some would think it might be time to sit back, take stock of the situation, and perhaps even pare back some activities. Not so, with Nestlé – it’s business as usual.

“Planned maintenance and capex are continuing,” said Riesterer. “From a crisis, there are a lot of opportunities. And I think the mindset of the people and how to embrace that change. This is where we have been very good – at all levels of the organisation from the shop floor up to the management of our factories in our organisation. Nobody wants to go through something like COVID-19 but at the end of the day it’s the adaptability of the organisation that will make it successful.”

A lot of the company’s maintenance needs are met by its own technicians. Being an international conglomerate, Nestlé does have parts suppliers from around the world but this has hardly affected its Australian operations, although like a lot of companies at the moment, it is careful about who it allows onsite and when.

“We limit access to third parties because we want to minimise risk. The health and safety of our people is our key priority, we therefore implemented remote support via
web based technologies, such as, video-conferencing.

Nestlé also did something extraordinary for a conglomerate with a huge workforce.
“We implemented a special 14-day COVID-19 leave, which is additional to the sick leave and holiday leave that is paid,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is to keep the workplace safe. A lot of industries have taken similar steps to ensure that frontline employees are safe, are motivated. We need them. Without them, nothing happens.”

Riesterer said that the company is malleable when it comes to how things will be in the future. He knows that COVID-19 will probably have a lasting effect on how a lot of companies are run. However, he isn’t ready to hang his hat on any one aspect that will change, only that the way things are done will not be the same.

“Are we rethinking the way in which we work in the office? Yes. What is the future? I do not know,” he said. “It has been a very interesting period for everybody. I think we have found out that by using new tools, it allows us to achieve a lot, of which maybe in the past, we were not so convinced.”