Danielle Barran

Since the pandemic began, the grocery industry has been at the forefront, rapidly adapting and implementing measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories of retailers and suppliers to Grocery Business' readers.

Danielle Barran, president of McCain Foods Canada

What measures has McCain Foods undertaken to date to address the current pandemic?

COVID-19 was unprecedented and like nothing McCain has experienced in its more than 60-year history in Canada. Of course, throughout the pandemic, the safety of McCain employees and their families has been paramount. Like many in the food industry, we worked quickly to adjust protocols and procedures to ensure we could continue to provide food to Canadians safely.

As a business rooted in agriculture, McCain has a unique view on the significant impact the pandemic is having on the food supply, and specifically the over 130 potato farmers we partner with across Canada. With an abrupt drop in demand, related to the public health closures in the food service and hospitality industries in Canada and export markets, Canadian farmers were left with a huge surplus of potatoes. McCain recognized quickly the need to:

  • Help Canadian farmers manage potentially devastating crop issues, both financial and ecological;
  • Help ensure food didn’t go to waste, especially when so many were in need;
  • Help drive better awareness around the protection of agriculture-based food systems in Canada to ensure a viable and sustainable future.

While this has long been important to McCain, the pandemic drove an urgency to do our part in supporting potato growers and a safe and sovereign food supply. 

What were the effects on your supply chain?

As store shelves began to empty in the early days of the pandemic, Canadians started to become more aware about where their food comes from and what a potential shortage might look like. While the issue for McCain, for the most part, was not supply related, it highlighted both the importance and vulnerability of the Canadian food chain and its downstream impact on Canadian potato farmers.

With over 45 per cent of all Canadian potatoes grown for frozen processing, this crisis threatened the viability of the potato supply chain. For this reason, McCain has worked diligently since the beginning of the pandemic to highlight this issue and help farmers manage the millions of pounds of excess potatoes. This included a donation commitment of up to 20 million pounds of potatoes to support food security organizations across the country to feed those in need. McCain also launched a campaign called #FrenchFriesFeedFarmers, which called on Canadians to eat more french fries, in support of Canadian potato farmers. While it started small, Canadians responded, demonstrating they value agriculture in Canada and have a desire to help where they can.

While more macro supply chain changes will take time, including the protection and promotion of Canadian farming, food production and the overall importance of the food industry in Canada, COVID-19 brought more awareness around the farm to fork food system, as Canadians considered the idea of a potential food shortage in the early weeks of the pandemic. 

What are the key business takeaways (lessons learned) from this experience?

With crisis comes an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, often in the face of difficulty. Of course, first and foremost, safety remains the number one priority, as it always is at McCain, because nothing is worth getting hurt for. With a little creativity, the McCain team channeled its entrepreneurial spirit to partner with retailers to help solve supply roadblocks and execute with speed.

Collaborating toward a shared goal, moving food from farm, to production, to store shelves and into homes during the pandemic proved what may have at times seemed insurmountable  can be accomplished – like our efforts to ensure surplus potatoes did not go to waste. With that in mind, I would like to thank all of the essential workers continuing to provide food safely in these challenging times.

Beyond safety, this crisis afforded us an opportunity to reflect, partner and rebuild with the future of food in mind, ensuring we protect Canadian farming and food production, while partnering with retailers to deliver an evolving food shopping experience – whether in store or digitally. I could not be more proud of the full McCain team and our retail partners, and I would like to recognize their resilience in this very difficult period – I am confident we will emerge stronger from this crisis.

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