L.H. Hayward & Co., owner of Camellia Brand Beans, Peas & Lentils, is a fourth-generation, family-owned company founded in New Orleans in 1923. In nearly a century of doing business the company has managed to thrive through world war, economic depression and multiple hurricanes – and the lessons learned haven’t been lost on Camellia Brand CEO Vince Hayward. So when the Covid-19 crisis became apparent, Hayward and his team were ready.
The current pandemic was not the first challenge Camellia Brand has faced during Vince Hayward’s tenure with the company; it had already successfully navigated through Hurricane Katrina, a storm that both destroyed company operations and became a cathartic and unifying moment for the city. During this time, storm-stricken New Orleanians began to rally around their most beloved traditions, including the comforting ritual of eating red beans & rice on Mondays. (Camellia Brand’s Red Kidney beans have long been the locally preferred bean for the dish.)
When the hurricane hit, Hayward said, “We lost our entire workforce overnight. Operations came to a standstill right when the demand for beans began to surge.”
However, within days, after some ad-hoc strategizing, the company was able to set up production in another state, with distribution hardly skipping a beat. It was able to use the equipment and facilities of a longtime supplier it’d been doing business with since 1951.
“Inspiring trust and goodwill in the people we do business with is a cornerstone of the company’s long-term strategy,” Hayward said. “It makes for strong, mutually beneficial business relationships that can really make a difference in a crisis. It’s probably a big part of how a business gets to be a hundred years young.”
This time around, Camellia Brand is not just bringing New Orleans families together over its famous Monday red beans and rice tradition; it is helping to feed the nation. After the initial drop in foodservice sales precipitated by the pandemic shutdown, Hayward said, consumer demand began to surge.
“Just like with Katrina, people are seeing that beans are a nutritious, high-protein, inexpensive comfort food with a long shelf life – the perfect crisis food,” he said. “In response, we are pulling out all the stops to keep our products stocked in stores, and we’ve also stepped up our e-commerce operations.”
To address safety concerns and manage demand the company is making temporary changes in its warehouse operations, Hayward said. “We had approximately 55 full-time employees before the pandemic. We’ve now added a second shift to reduce the number of people in the warehouse and facilitate proper distancing, and we’ve hired 20 more employees to keep up with demand.”
The remaining challenge now, according to Hayward, is staying supplied with beans that meet Camellia Brand’s exacting quality standards. (L.H. Hayward & Co. suppliers annually set aside their best beans for Camellia Brand, which exceed top USDA standards. Suppliers have dubbed this level of quality “The Hayward Standard.”)
“It’s going to be an interesting summer,” he said, “but this is no time to relax our vigilance with regard to whatever’s coming next.” The Camellia Brand team, he said, is up to the task. “Ultimately, this will be just another tough moment in our long history. We know our strategy, and it works in both chaos and calm. We maintain quality standards, keep our employees safe, keep our business relationships strong and keep an eye on the future. As a family and as a company, this is what we do. We live to fight another day.”