Our lessons in 2020
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. As part of a vital sector, all companies of the VanDrie Group were able to continue production during the pandemic. However, we were faced with situations for which no contingency plan yet existed: ensuring that employees in our production locations could work under corona-proof conditions, sales channels that came to a standstill, as a result of which we struggled with surpluses, and borders that were closed, as a result of which international trade was hit hard. By reflecting on the actions that we took, or rather didn’t take, with the knowledge that we have now, we can learn lessons and improve our organisation.
Optimal crisis management through cooperation
Our main priority was safeguarding employee safety. The VanDrie Group has a company in the Italian region of Lombardy. That is why we had COVID-19 in our sights fairly quickly, as a result of which we were able to take measures relatively quickly at the beginning of March 2020 in order to guarantee the health of employees and to enable production to continue safely.
Cooperation proved to be essential. Not only internally – with our employees and between subsidiaries – but also with external stakeholders, such as municipalities, regulatory authorities, hiring and industry organisations. Available knowledge is not optimal in a crisis and everyone must be able to react quickly and flexibly. Through open communication and intensive cooperation, we were able to quickly take the required steps in order to safeguard the health of our employees and safe production conditions. Examples include a complete reorganisation of the production locations, the use of private laboratories for PCR tests, using rapid tests and tightened requirements in terms of transport and the accommodation of hired employees. We experienced first-hand how important open communication is and that impactful partnerships can arise as a result of that. In 2021, employees from our Dutch meat processing companies tested positive for COVID-19 in spite of all our precautionary measures. We learned from this that we can never allow our vigilance to slacken, especially not at times of crisis.
Spreading across sales channels
From March 2020, countries throughout Europe, our most important sales market, went into lockdown. Sales of veal products remained constant in the retail channels. However, catering establishments had to close, as a result of which an important sales channel for veal fell by the wayside for a long time; this even continued until the spring of 2021. On average, this led to a 30 percent drop in sales, resulting in sharply falling prices and increasing freezer stocks.
This demonstrated the importance of a spread across sales channels, both retail and out-of-home, in order to cushion severe market shocks. In addition, the importance of a balanced spread at country level also became clear. Following the outbreak in March, various European Member States differed in terms of their approach and measures, both in scope, duration and timing. By spreading our sales channels and serving more markets, our sales are less vulnerable to unfavourable market fluctuations.
European internal market remains essential
In order to guarantee quality, speed is essential when transporting fresh, cooled meat products to the customer, but also when importing raw materials for feed, so as to prevent delays in planning and production. With the closing of national borders, international trade was made difficult, because additional checks led to delays.
In order to ensure that international trade did not come to a standstill, the European Commission took several measures. One essential measure for us was the establishment of the so-called Green Lanes, which ensured that freight traffic could drive on quicker at many border crossing points. A properly functioning European internal market is essential to our value chain. With companies in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France and Italy, we experienced the importance of good European cooperation.