UPDATE: April 14, 2020: The company's production facilities will stay closed until May 3, the company announced on its website. Employees will continue to be paid in the interim. Unless the outbreak gets worse, Just Born said it will return to making candy on May 4, and will provide a temporary pay increase to those who come back. The company says it has been making changes to policies and procedures.
"These actions will enable us to get back to business, service our customers, and bring sweetness to the lives of our loyal fans," the website states.
UPDATE: April 6, 2020: Just Born is extending the closure of its factories and retail store until April 20 at the earliest, the company announced on its website. All employees will continued to be paid.
Most food and beverage manufacturers have continued to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
Not every factory has kept going. Last week, Just Born — the Pennsylvania manufacturer of Peeps — decided to close its factories as of March 25. According to a statement on the confectioner's website, all operations and manufacturing facilities will remain closed until April 7 at the earliest. Office employees will work remotely, while the two plants in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and the retail store in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, will be cleaned and sanitized. All employees will be paid during this time period.
While Just Born is best known for its iconic marshmallow and sugar bunny and chick-shaped Peeps, this shutdown won't create a shortage of the Easter basket staple. The company said it has already produced and shipped all of this year's products. What it is doing, Matt Pye, senior VP of sales and marketing, told Food Dive in an email, is working to keep the 500 employees throughout all of the company's functions healthy.
"After reviewing the latest information our management team made the decision to suspend production," Pye wrote. "At the heart of this decision was the well-being of our associates, our desire to be a good corporate citizen to help 'flatten the curve' and to provide an opportunity for our associates to focus on themselves and their families during this uncertain time."
Just Born has been closely following updates about the novel coronavirus, starting months ago when news about the virus was first emerging, Pye said. The company stayed current on developments about COVID-19, its spread and its impacts. As recently as March 20, the company pledged for manufacturing to continue throughout the duration of the outbreak. A company statement reported in Lehigh Valley Live said its candies could bring "emotional joy and sweetness to people's lives." Pye said the decision to shut down was made as the situation around the virus' spread continued to rapidly evolve.
While many large manufacturers have said their factories have social distancing measures built in, Pye said that isn't completely the case for Just Born. After the plants stopped manufacturing, the operations team has been trying to change some of the processes that do not allow for social distancing. He said these new plans will take effect once the lines start moving again.
The decision to close the plant has been generally well received by employees and the public, Pye said. And the company hopes its fans will still understand.
While Easter is Just Born's biggest holiday, the confectioner also makes trick-or-treat and movie theater staples Mike & Ike, Hot Tamales and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews. The company said in its statement it has inventory of those items, but consumers may see shortages in coming months. Pye said the closure should not impact the supply of Peeps for next Easter.
Big food companies such as Nestlé, Mondelez and Campbell Soup are pushing through the pandemic and continuing manufacturing — sometimes running lines continually to meet increased demand. Other smaller manufacturers may be trying to make the same decision Just Born faced: stay open as other businesses shutter because of the spreading virus, or close down for safety reasons. Pye said he encourages anyone in that situation to follow all recommendations from state and federal authorities.
"Most importantly, manufacturers should do whatever is necessary in their facilities to keep their employees safe," he wrote.