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Flour milling in the age of Covid-19

19 January 20216 min reading

Scott Wellcome

Scott Wellcome Director Grain Risk Management & Sourcing Raw Material Purchasing GoodMills Group GmbH

“At the GoodMills Group, we were not immune to the effects of the pandemic, but through a culture of working together, thinking outside of the box and being flexible and adaptable we managed to maintain our significant contribution to the nourishment of the population of Central and Eastern Europe. The new 20/21 season will remain a challenge, but we know we have the right team to deal with it and to deliver what is expected from us!”

What a year 2020 has been. If you have a long enough memory there have been quite a few years with plenty of volatility in the raw material markets, shocks to global economies and even the odd pandemic, but none of these events have resulted in a global lockdown as we have experienced in 2020.

At the GoodMills Group, we were not immune to the effects of the pandemic, but through a culture of working together, thinking outside of the box and being flexible and adaptable we managed to maintain our significant contribution to the nourishment of the population of Central and Eastern Europe. Like all of us, in early March we were confronted by a situation that was completely new and unknown – the “Corona-Pandemic” which catapulted us out of our everyday life. We witnessed panic buying in supermarkets, production working at full capacity, shortage of packaging materials, logistical issues, and absence of personal due to the virus.

Workers in the laboratories taking precautionary measures.

The Executive Board of the GoodMills Group rapidly created a Covid-19 crisis team to connect the management at the Holding with our strong local management to facilitate fast sharing of best practice, to coordinate measures across the Group and to be a partner for important decisions on country level.

First and foremost, the priority for the Group was the health and wellbeing of our employees, then to ensure continual production at all our facilities. Among the initial measures taken were the cordoning off our mills and requesting non-operational staff to work from home.

Furthermore, we segmented all operations and shifts and created separate teams to minimize personal interaction between our staff members, thereby respecting the social distancing norms we still follow today.

Hygiene and safety systems have thoroughly and strictly been implemented for years throughout our mills. Because of our adherence to these standards and the fact that we have planned for an array of foreseeable eventualities, the GoodMills Group was already in a strong position to deal with the challenges imposed by the new situation.

We implemented 100% of all additional safe-guards experts suggested to us in all our mills across Europe such as: the obligation to increase washing and / or disinfecting of hands by all persons, increasing the number of disinfectant preparation points, maintaining a minimum distance of 1m between people in any area and drivers to remain in their vehicles at truck loading and un-loading points.

Within a very short time, the IT department at the headquarters created the prerequisites for remote work in all relevant functions, so that it was possible to switch directly from office work to mobile work.

When the first wave broke into our life, we not only had to adapt personally to the new situation but also had to face an increasing 1kg packed flour demand of our retail partners as well as B2B partners driven by the panic purchases in the stores.

The procurement of raw materials during the first lockdown took place under the most difficult conditions, as the demand for raw materials and the logistics and freight requirements worldwide increased dramatically and physical visits of farmers and traders were not possible. This was exacerbated by the restrictions imposed by temporarily closed ports.

Despite these adversities, the Group succeeded in maintaining the supply of goods in an extremely short reaction time. In doing so, we ensured continuity of production and its optimization by securing in advance all materials necessary for a smooth production process, this was only made possible due to our long-established strategy of regional and local procurement and loyal business relationships with our suppliers.

In all operating countries, the key was an agile and flexible outlook. Our teams were willing to try out new ideas and not just stick to traditional ways of working if new ones would work better.

For example, each of our operating countries also created their own mantras to help manage the challenges. A great example is the following mantra from our Czech Republic office, “my mask protects you, your mask protects me”. Alongside this mantra, we were able to implement a lot of new measures and 10 rules to secure each other’s safety.

This year tested our flexibility and adaptiveness in all areas of the business, not just on production and sales, as we have completed an extended organizational change within our company.

In addition, we also had to deliver some major on-going investment projects. Our construction sites in Krefeld, Landshut and Mannheim were managed with different trades under COVID-specific framework conditions. Construction work continues at our Krefeld site.

A high level of professional dedication and personal sacrifices meant that all of the projects remain very close to their original schedules, a remarkable achievement given the circumstances.

At GoodMills Innovations - our innovation center in Hamburg - colleagues are still unable to visit their customers in person, which is why webinars were held with them. Product samples are sent out in advance by post and then tasted together via video conference. In addition, the sales team was trained for telephone acquisition, since direct customer contact can currently only take place by telephone.

After the first wave, we set up many scenarios and plans to be prepared for a possible second wave we hoped would never come. We built stocks of packaging and flour at all sites; we fast-tracked many digitalization projects to help manage our production chain both more efficiently and to cope with many working remotely.

These scenarios remain ongoing as many of our units are in their third lockdown, and this time each country has its own set of guidelines, which makes the job of managing these challenges even more a partnership between the holding team and local country management.

This year is more than a strange one but taught us many new things and takes us to a whole new level. We have proven that we can achieve a lot together with a winning mindset and great coordination. It made us not just a great team but a cohesive family.

We milled over 2.8 million tons of grain and sold over 2.3 million tons of flour and kept all of our 25 mills in 7 countries continuously in production. That is enough flour to make 4.6 billion loaves of bread that would stretch around the world we live in 35 times.

The new 20/21 season will remain a challenge, but we know we have the right team to deal with it and to deliver what is expected from us!

Putting our motto “we drive the power of grains” in action in daily life makes us look to the future optimistically and believe that we will manage 2021 well.

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