Mitch Arends has been working from 4:30 a.m. until midnight for weeks.
"I think it's natural for someone in manufacturing to work a lot of long hours. It's kind of in our DNA ...but over the last couple of weeks, it's kind of amped up," Arends told Food Dive.
As the senior vice president of operations and manufacturing for Kraft Heinz, Arends always has a big job. In his position, he oversees the company's 39 manufacturing facilities nationwide, as well as the 19,000 employees who work in them. But as Kraft Heinz works around the clock to make the products that Americans are buying to sustain themselves while staying at home because of the threat of coronavirus, the job has taken on a new dimension.
All of the company's U.S. factories are currently operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to produce the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Heinz Ketchup, Maxwell House coffee and Oscar Mayer hot dogs that are filling millions of pantries and freezers. Arends said that the company sometimes operates on this kind of schedule to meet seasonal demands, but it's never been quite like this. And the demand has been pretty consistent across Kraft Heinz's portfolio.
Arends said there is no question that Kraft Heinz will be able to consistently meet demand, even as sales climb exponentially. There have, as of yet, been no issues with the company's ingredients or supply chain.
"I would say at this point, we are prepared to continue to make product exactly as we are today for the foreseeable future," he said. "I can't imagine a situation that would change that."
In fact, as the pandemic has raged, Kraft Heinz has improved efficiency and production levels exponentially, Arends said. In late March, CEO Miguel Patricio visited a Davenport, Iowa plant where Oscar Mayer cold cuts are made. The plant, which opened two years ago, was built to be modern and efficient. For the last three weeks, Arends said, the plant has produced record outputs. And it isn't just that one factory. Arends said about half a dozen plants have consistently hit their highest output levels ever.
Beyond efficiency improvements — which has been a major goal of Patricio's since before the outbreak as he has been trying to improve Kraft Heinz's business outlook — employees are seeing themselves as a major part in the country's health and welfare at this time. Arends said that employee attendance has also been among the best in the last several weeks.
Our factory in Mason, Ohio was running strong till almost midnight yesterday ???????? look at these heroes working hard to give America and Canada their favorite portion size sauces! #WeGotYouAmerica pic.twitter.com/AKfnBWt0qA— Kraft Heinz Company (@KraftHeinzCo) March 19, 2020
"From a manufacturing standpoint, our employees in this moment have stepped up to the plate and have gone above and beyond in delivering everything not only that the organization has asked, but really the country has asked," Arends said.
Employees and the company itself are showing this dedication on social media featuring posts with the hashtag #WegotyouAmerica. Arends said this started as an internal initiative from an employee who wanted to show the world that the company has been working hard.
As for worker health during the outbreak, Arends said most of the plants are already configured so that employees maintain distances. All plant personnel — and the factories on the whole — are kept extremely clean due to FDA mandates. The only places where employees may come into closer-than-recommended personal contact are in non-manufacturing areas like cafeterias and breakrooms. Arends said they've been modified to show acceptable distances between people, like marks on tables to keep employees six feet apart.
Arends, who represents the fifth generation of a family in the food industry, said it's been amazing to see how everything at Kraft Heinz has been working to feed America at this time. The company is ready and able to continue to work around the clock to fill refrigerators and pantries with Planters peanuts, Capri-Sun pouches and Lunchables as long as it needs to.
"The healthcare workers are the true frontline, but our employees are right behind them," Arends said. "They take every day with pride, going in and making products to make sure the food supply continues. So [I'm] very proud of every one of them and I can't say enough in admiration about them."