Oftentimes, when companies face financial challenges, the first thing to discontinue are subscriptions and membership groups, but Food and Beverage Wisconsin executive director Shelley Jurewicz and her team are implementing new resources to illustrate the value of FaB Wisconsin to its 260 members.
Like many other companies, FaB Wisconsin is turning to virtual resources to connect its members and provide tools to sustainability in the food and beverage industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Right now, FaB’s number one job is to keep its members operational, Jurewicz said. The challenges come for food and beverage manufacturers who are seeing their distribution channels dry up as restaurants and bars close operations. Jurewicz said these businesses have to learn to switch to a retail setting to overcome the financial challenges. Another major challenge that FaB Wisconsin is seeing is workforce challenges.
Small businesses are being forced to lay off employees, but many large food and beverage manufacturers are hiring.
“The demand for food has not ceased,” Jurewicz said.
To help food and beverage manufacturers overcome these challenges, FaB Wisconsin is creating what Jurewicz describes as both hand-to-hand combat and group assistance to support its members online.
The organization is launching a COVID-19 page April 1, which will include both general resources on managing the pandemic as well as specific resources to the food and beverage industry.
“I think the name of the game is how do we stay in touch and how do we connect people to their answers that they need, the resources that they need in a matter that helps them maintain their operation,” Jurewicz said.
Some specific resources include connecting members of the food service side of the industry with manufacturers that are looking to hire employees. FaB Wisconsin will launch a free hour-and-a-half webinar next week on basic food safety so employees that may be entering a food manufacturing plant would have some training already when they start.
“If we can connect them with those being laid off on the food service side and keep as many people within the industry and let them migrate from farm to factory to fork and let that experience count, that’s something that we’re really working on and that also spills into the retail sector,” Jurewicz said.
The new page will also have financial resources in the form of WEDC grants or other resources. FaB will also be providing online webinars to navigate these financial resources, so they are as accessible and easy to use as possible.
Other resources include a series of LinkedIn groups that the organization launched last week. These include private groups with human resource professionals, offering best practices on handling layoffs or other employee issues, a forum for food safety professionals that are challenged by supply chain issues and a forum for CEOs. FaB also has a group specifically for what it calls “scaling companies” that have 25 or fewer employees.
These LinkedIn groups are complimented by online Zoom meetings, which will begin April 3. There will be three Zoom meetings a month for scaling companies, two for human resources professionals, two on food safety and two on supply chain.
Jurewicz said one of the biggest realizations for FaB through this pandemic was that the concept of “farm to fork” wasn’t so direct.
“There is most often a factory in the middle. In conversations with folks, the silver lining is there is greater awareness that there is a robust industry out there that is feeding and quenching the world and raising awareness of our manufacturers and the important role that they play in providing food and drink for us has been an interesting realization,” she said.