( Brooke Park )

Companies are reacting in their own ways to the pandemic, from organizing donations of food and money, an attention to worker safety and a little levity to brighten employees’ days.

Bolthouse Farms

Bolthouse Farms is donating to Feeding America, which in turn distributes to a network of 200 food banks nationally, but the carrot company is also focusing efforts in the communities where it grows: Bakersfield, and Santa Monica, Calif., Prosser, Wash., and Hodgkins, Ill.

According to Bolthouse Farms, the donations include:

  • Employee support: Bolthouse Farms purchased food and other essentials for employees and their families;
  • Feeding America employee matching donation program: The company is matching employee donations up to $20,000, and CEO Jeff Dunn has pledged personal donations of $20,000, for a total $60,000;
  • Local food banks: The company has donated truckloads of carrots to Community Action Partnership of Kern, (Bakersfield); Los Angeles Regional Food Bank (Santa Monica); Greater Chicago Food Depository (Hodgkins); and will select a Prosser area charity;
  • Dignity Health Mercy Hospital: Bolthouse has donated carrots, salad dressing and beverages to a pop-up grocery for health care workers;
  • San Joaquin Valley: The company has donated 700 pounds of carrots to Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center.

Divine Flavor/Viva Organica

Divine Flavor, Nogales, Ariz., and its growers have been taking precautions with employee safety, with the company’s summer programs beginning to start in the coming weeks in Mexico.

Organic produce supplier Viva Organica is building additional medical facilities and hiring more medical professionals, according to a news release. Mexico’s numbers of infection are much lower than in the U.S., but Mexican health officials anticipate those numbers to increase in the summer, when production reaches its peak at Viva Organica. 

“Between all the growing locations at Viva Organica, we have over 2,000 employees and it is my responsibility to not only provide safe working conditions, but also to make sure all employees feel safe and healthy during these times of uncertainty,” David Bon, CEO and founder of Viva Organica, said in the release.

The organic grower has converted unused housing into medical rooms with beds, and is allowing employees who are older or with underlying medical conditions to receive full pay, even if they aren’t working.

“We don’t know what the next few weeks have in store regarding this coronavirus situation and what impact it will have on Mexico, but we know that we are prepared and our employees will be taken care of,” Bon said in the release.

Frieda’s Specialty Produce

Frieda’s Specialty Produce, Los Alamitos, Calif., took to video to touch base with employees and thank them for working from home or in the warehouse during the seventh week of California’s shelter-at-home orders.

The leadership team at the company has been meeting through Zoom every morning, president and CEO Karen Caplan said in a release.

“We spend a lot of time talking about how the employees are feeling, and we thought if only they could see us in action, just like before COVID-19 hit,” she said in the release. “We wanted to ensure that they know how truly grateful we are for everything they are doing to make sure that our retailers are fully stocked with our fresh, delicious produce.” 

Taking their cues from “Saturday Night Live at Home” and the “One World: Together at Home” concert, the leadership team used the meeting to talk about how much they appreciate the employees, and downloaded it to YouTube.

NatureSweet Tomatoes

NatureSweet, San Antonio, has donated more than 1.3 million pounds of produce to food banks in the U.S. and communities in Mexico, and provided safety kits with protective gear and cleaning supplies to employees.

“A shared belief that our well-being is dependent upon our decisions and not our circumstances led to the mobilization and delivery of comfort, relief, and hope that it’ll all be OK in the form of small and delicious tomatoes, along with other medical equipment,” Rodolfo Spielmann, president and CEO, said in a news release.

NatureSweet has donated tomatoes to food banks and indigenous community groups in Atlanta, and San Antonio, Houston, Corpus Christi and Laredo, Texas; the company plans to donate up to $5 million worth of products during the pandemic, according to the news release.

Steps the company has taken during the pandemic include:

  • Safety measures for employees, with temperature checkpoints, social distancing measures and additional sanitation steps, along with protective gear;
  • Bonuses for front-line workers;
  • Paid leave for at-risk employees; and
  • Take home safety kits and grocery packs for employees;
  • The company is hiring employees to avoid supply gaps, with consumers relying on grocery stores

Washington potato growers

Hundreds of consumers flocked to downtown Ritzville, Wash., April 29, as potato growers gave out 20 tons of potatoes, in 15-pound bags.

Some people just needed a bag or two; others were collecting for friends, families and neighbors, and representatives of area food banks left with dozens of bags, according to The Spokesman-Review, Spokane.

Washington State Representative Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, a member of the legislature’s ag committee and member of the Washington State Food Policy Forum, said in a release that more loads will be donated to food banks, churches and other charities in coming weeks.

Growers that supplied potatoes to processors for frozen products such as French fries have nowhere to sell about three billion pounds still left in storage, according to the release.

“Growers were on track to plant 170,000 acres of potatoes that were destined for frozen potato processors in Washington and Oregon,” Dye said in the release. ”Many have already planted the crop, or they had prepared the ground for planting and had taken delivery of seed potatoes. Many had invested nearly $2,300 per acre before planting their first potato.”

Washington growers are looking at $73 million in losses, she said.

For more coverage of how the company is affecting produce industry companies, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

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