by John McCurry/contributing writer
Food companies have been scrambling to keep grocery stores supplied for the past month as the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the U.S. Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic food company in the U.S., is one of many companies that has seen demand for its products—particularly those with long shelf lives such as beans and rice—skyrocket during this period.
Demand continues to be strong, and Goya is busy refilling shelves, says Joe Perez, the company’s SVP.
“Purchasing has calmed down slightly, but people are still stockpiling and stores are doing the same,” he says. “Overall, the public is realizing this is not like a snowstorm or a hurricane and over in three days, and able to go back to their original lifestyle. There is the feeling that it is going to be anywhere from six to 10 more weeks before there is the comfort level and ability to be out and about in public again. Everyone in the food industry is working as hard as they can with the supply chain. The fact that restaurant dining has been suspended nationwide has those suppliers switching from wholesale to retail. It’s a lot to figure out all at the same time.”
Beans are an integral part of Goya’s signature line of products. This includes both dry and canned beans, and within each are subcategories and various sizes. Black beans are the most popular. Goya sources the majority of its beans from U.S. producers, with lesser amounts coming from Canada and Mexico.
“Some (growers) are having issues and part of that is caused by the harvest last fall was not as good as expected so there are some varieties that are extremely tight,” Perez says.
Bean growers are trying to increase production this year, but Perez wonders if the increased demand will still be there in a few months. Overplanting could create an excess supply. But as some consumers discover the versatility of dried beans, their popularity could be on the rise.
“The indication is that we are going through a peak right now and the numbers will come down, but perhaps not down to the same level as before,” Perez says. “I think there will be some incremental long-term growth, both dried and canned. Not everyone has the knack or the ability to plan ahead to make dried beans. If you are going to soak the beans, it has to be done ahead, and then you are pretty much locked into that’s what you are going to have the next day. With cans, you can change your mind, from one variety to another, or save them for another day.”
Cooking dried beans requires additional time and some skill. To assist its customers, Goya is supplying information for those who might not have this particular knack.
“We have an in-house chef doing cooking segments with quick, healthy tips on our website,” Perez says. “We also offer hundreds of recipes on our website on how to use beans and rice. Among our canned products we not only have beans in water and salt, but we also have our prepared bean line, already in a prepared sauce of onion, olive oil, garlic, tomato. It’s heat and serve, but you still have the authentic traditional flavor. If you don’t have time to prepare from scratch, that’s the solution.”
Other shelf-stable products that have flown off shelves include rice, coconut water and condiments. Perez says consumers have returned to cooking at home on a large scale.
Perez says Goya staff has worked longer hours to make sure the company could receive more product. The company has devoted more time to loading and routing trucks, speaking with its client base and being more flexible overall. Goya operates 11 distribution centers around the U.S.
“We’ve seen the necessity of not having narrow hours of receiving at the moment,” Perez says. “We’ve increased our warehouse staffing so that we can replenish stock, and we keep ourselves aware of what’s going on.”
Goya has taken precautions for the safety and health of its employees and customers. In compliance with CDC recommendations, the company has provided employees with gloves and masks.
“When drivers come into our buildings, we take everyone’s temperature to make sure they do not have a fever and if they do, they are sent home immediately,” Perez says. “We have sanitizing stations and signs posted throughout our facility. We make every effort to maintain a minimum six feet distance between individuals. Even in meetings we make space between people at the table. We have ingrained it into every member of our staff and drivers. “
Goya is rewarding employees for their work during the crisis. Hourly rates have been increased and there has been more opportunity for overtime.
“We’ve also given thank you checks to the office staff and warehouse crew who have managed to still come to work.” Perez says. “We are exploring all possible avenues to make people feel appreciated. With the night crew, we bring in a full hot meal for them every night at no cost to them. We have a company store, and we have given them the equivalent of $50 in coupons to use in the store.”
Perez notes that giving back to the community has long been a core value of Goya and the company is continuing to give food donations to organizations such as soup kitchens across the nation. To date, Goya has donated more than 200,000 pounds of food during the crisis.