As the US experiences another wave of COVID-19 cases, consumers across the country are feeling the effects, with increased shipping times and out-of-stock products being more common again. COVID-19 tests and the vaccine are top-of-mind across industries.
“Absenteeism in warehouses has resulted in late shipments and retailers don’t have the employee base to restock shelves,” said Joseph Aquilina, director and counsel for the Consumer Brands Association. “Although this is showing up as shortages on grocery store shelves, it is clear that we are dealing with a labor shortage – not a food shortage.”
Consumer packaged goods businesses and organizations are working to combat the situation through boosting vaccination rates, advocating for both improved testing systems as well as federal action on supply chain disruptions and speaking directly with industry executives on these complex issues.
“We head into 2022 with tremendous uncertainty about the future of our workforce, not yet knowing the effect that the Omicron variant will have on worker participation or consumer demand,” said Aquilina.
Vaccine mandates and incentives
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has now withdrawn its federal vaccination and testing rules, President Joe Biden has called on businesses to enact their own policies and encourage vaccinations for employee safety and well-being.
Several CPG companies have established pandemic policies and protocols to keep employees safe, which include COVID-19 testing and full or partial vaccine mandates, while making sure to also provide accommodations such as health or religious exemptions.
The meatpacking industry was hit particularly hard at the onset of the pandemic with infections and subsequently therefore high absenteeism rates. Tyson Foods has been a prominent advocate for vaccines and enacted an official requirement for all of its workers. As of Oct. 26, 96% of Tyson’s workforce was at least partially vaccinated, aided by the company’s hosting of more than 150 events to provide on-site or near-site vaccinations and its launching of COVID-19 vaccination educational campaigns for employees.
“Has this made a difference in the health and safety of our team members? Absolutely,” said Tyson CEO Donnie King in a company note to employees. “We’ve seen a significant decline in the number of active cases, companywide.”
Molson Coors also instituted its own vaccination mandate last summer, and the brewing company recently announced it will require all office workers to receive a COVID-19 booster.
Many businesses are also focusing on incentivising by offering cash or rewards to vaccinated employees. In addition to its mandate, Tyson was offering paid sick time as well as access to a $10,000 giveaway for all vaccinated workers.
Coca-Cola has not enacted a vaccine requirement, but the beverage manufacturer is offering a stipend to staff who are vaccinated. A bonus of $2,000 was available to the fully vaccinated employees last October.
Industry support and resources
As a leading advocate for the CPG industry, the Consumer Brands Association has focused much of its effort on educating industry stakeholders about pandemic-related issues such as the COVID-19 vaccine.
Throughout the pandemic, Consumer Brands has facilitated regular conversations with CPG executives and human resources professionals to encourage industry leaders to share successes and challenges, as well as seek out information and advice from one another.
“These exchanges have evolved from sharing information on PPE and designating CPG employees as essential workers, to securing vaccines for employees and facilitating on-site vaccination at plants, [and] to sharing information on vaccine incentive policies and navigating omicron absenteeism,” said Aquilina. “These exchanges have become an important forum for member companies to share best practices and navigate major obstacles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
COVID-19 testing has been important across industries since tests became available to the public, but the emergence of the Omicron variant and recent spike in cases has shown the necessity of a better testing system. A survey of 33 CPG companies found that three-fourths of respondents are seeing an increase in absenteeism due to positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing from exposure, according to Consumer Brands’ Aquilina, while the industry is still trying to fill a significant number of job openings.
Aquilina applauded the Biden administration for its recent action in purchasing and issuing one billion tests to US households, but he adds that even more action can be taken. The trade group joined the Critical Infrastructure Supply Chain Council, which is urging federal and state government leaders to prioritize testing for essential workers who are critical to our supply chain.
“To meet ever-rising consumer demand for CPG goods, keep supply chains moving and keep grocery store shelves stocked, the CPG industry needs a robust and healthy workforce,” said Aquilina. “Increasing worker vaccine rates, maintaining proper PPE protocols and ensuring reliable access to testing are crucial to protecting the health and safety of our essential workers.”
If you missed it, check out how the foodservice industry is also encouraging employees and customers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
If you liked this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free email newsletter from the Consumer Brands Association. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.