The COVID-19 outbreak has the world’s biggest companies adjusting operations to meet surging customer demand for everything from toilet paper to meat products.
Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale said Wednesday that it was shifting chicken, beef and pork production away from foodservice clients and to grocery stores, aiming to boost shipments to store shelves.
Dean Banks, the Tyson executive who leads the company’s poultry, fresh meats and prepared foods business segments, called it the “most significant shift we’ve ever initiated.”
“Clearly stated, the food supply in the U.S. is more than sufficient and we’re taking a variety of measures to meet the shifting increase in demand now, and to ensure a steady supply moving forward,” Banks wrote on the company’s website.
“There is plenty of food available. We are working closely with our retailer partners to ensure our products are on their shelves, so that you have what you need to feed your family.”
The publicly traded company has more than 100 food production plants in the U.S.
“We’re working collaboratively with our customers to fill and ship orders as rapidly as possible,” he wrote. “In some cases, our capability to shift processes in individual plants is allowing us to quickly pivot to producing retail items. For example, changing packaging from a foodservice product to a retail product can occur quickly because of the built-in flexibility of our operations.”
Still, Tyson warned investors in a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission on Friday that pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak could “disrupt consumption and trade patterns, supply chains, and production processes, which could materially affect our operations and results of operations.”
The company outlined risks to its workforce, product demand and logistics.
Some work is already being done to help shippers. The federal government this week has suspended rules that limit the number of hours that truckers can drive.
And on Sunday, President Donald Trump had a conference call with 30 food, grocery and beverage retail executives who recommended certain actions like establishing a point person in the administration to oversee coordination with various government agencies in order to deliver essential food supplies faster to stores.
Meanwhile, Walmart Inc. of Bentonville has once again adjusted operating hours to allow it to restock shelves and sanitize stores.
The retailer said Wednesday that U.S. stores would now be open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., with stores that open later than 7 a.m. maintaining their regular starting hours.
It’s also instituted special shopping times for older customers who could be more vulnerable to the coronavirus. From March 24 through April 28, stores will host an hour-long senior shopping event every Tuesday for customers 60 and older. This will start one hour before the store opens. Pharmacies and eye clinics will also be open during this time.
The company is also limited the amounts customers can buy of certain products, including paper products, milk, eggs, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water, diapers, wipes, formula and baby food.
“We know communities are counting on us more than ever and we are determined to serve the broadest number of customers and ensure they have access to the key items they are looking for,” the company said on its website.
The moves come as other grocers big and small hire more workers, pay overtime and limit purchases on high demand items.
Amazon said Tuesday that it will only accept shipments from suppliers of cleaning equipment, medical supplies and household goods at its warehouses for the next three weeks to fill surging demand.
For some store workers, sheer exhaustion is taking a toll as they must work faster while dealing with angry customers.
Brittney Legowski, a part-time college student who works as a personal shopper at a Walmart store in Menomonie, Wisconsin, says she started feeling more overworked late last week when online orders spiked. She picks about 100 items per hour for a typical customer; now, she’s picking 170 items an hour and up to half of them aren’t available.
“We’re racing through the aisles just to keep up,” said Legowski, who has gotten yelled at by irate shoppers and is thinking of quitting.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)