- The Hershey Company is committing $1 million to acquire, install and staff a facility capable of manufacturing 45,000 disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) masks daily. The manufacturing facility will be operational at the end of May, the company says.
- Masks are intended for Hershey employees and their families, but will also be made available to the community or health care facilities, according to Penn Live Patriot News.
- The company has also made cash and chocolate donations around the country. It has worked closely with the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to donate N95 masks and surgical gloves, along with hand sanitizing stations. The company is also giving warehouse space and supply chain expertise to help care providers at the Milton Hershey Medical Center.
Manufacturers all over the nation are retrofitting equipment and investing in new machinery to create PPE in the face of critical shortages of masks, ventilators and other supplies needed to combat the ongoing pandemic. Now Hershey has gotten into the game with the intention of providing its employees and their families with sufficient facial coverings. While the chocolate company has also said it will donate to care providers and medical facilities, the reason behind this significant investment in a new manufacturing facility may also be an investment in the company itself.
In food and beverage manufacturing, personal protective equipment — hand protection, protective clothing, and respiratory protection — is standard issue. Stringent food manufacturing regulations and the risk of bacteria exposure make the use of personal protection necessary to maintain a clean and safe working environment. Recently, PPE shortages have been affecting workers in this industry. Hershey’s investment establishes a guaranteed supply chain of these masks for use by its workers and ensures the food company’s operations can continue.
While Hershey is not alone in manufacturing health and safety supplies needed during the pandemic, its approach to doing so is unique. Most other food and beverage companies that have made the switch have done so by retrofitting existing manufacturing equipment. CPG packaging manufacturer Novolex shifted production at four of its North American facilities and traded making items including flexible food bags and rigid muffin trays for isolation gowns and face shields. Other companies are focusing on sanitation as demand for hand sanitizer grows. Alcohol giants and breweries are producing hand sanitizers. Both local distilleries and international companies such as Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Anheuser-Busch are taking part in making and donating hand sanitizer.
Hershey may be taking the approach of purchasing new production capabilities because, unlike other product manufacturers, it may not be economical for the company to repurpose its equipment from producing chocolate to creating face masks. Other factories in the auto, packaging and garment industries have equipment that is more immediately transferrable to PPE production.
Hershey is not innately equipped to manufacture disposable masks, so its acquisition is likely one of both machinery and expertise. By purchasing a facility expressly to manufacture PPE, the company will also be looking to access a supply chain for the raw materials and a staff that can supervise the creation of these products.
Other food manufacturers that are financially equipped to follow a similar route may do so. However, many are favoring direct donations of money, time, products or expertise to help the emergency response to the pandemic. The Kind Foundation has committed up to $1 million to expand upon Project N95's current efforts to connect healthcare institutions with suppliers of masks, gowns and gloves. Vita Coco is donating $1 million of its pandemic profits to Feeding America and No Kid Hungry. Danone North America announced a $1.5 million donation to local food banks and food rescue organizations. And Reed's converted its consumer sampling truck into a delivery vehicle to donate more than $10,000 worth of product they had in their truck to medical professionals and first responders.
Going forward, there may be more companies looking to either acquire new manufacturing facilities or retool their own to continue pumping out PPE — particularly masks, since the CDC recommended the public should wear facial coverings when social distancing is not viable and Vox reported the United States had only stockpiled 1% of the Department of Health and Human Services' estimated PPE requirements. This pressing need coupled with President Trump's invocation of the Defense Production Act on March 18, which can mandate that companies prioritize manufacturing according to the government’s needs, has the possibility of making the production of PPE a critical pursuit.
Although the mandated conversion of food and beverage to PPE manufacturing remains a future probability, it is still likely that more companies will look to contribute to the emergency response and eradication of the pandemic in order to return to a state of business as usual.