Margaret Hudson, president, Burnbrae Farms

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures; grocery retailers and food manufacturers have implemented such measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. Grocers have modified their in-store practices and suppliers have changed manufacturing processes and their supply chains to address unprecedented demand. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories to Grocery Business' readers.

Margaret Hudson, president Burnbrae Farms Ltd.

Crisis leadership initiatives

Our response to the COVID-19 crisis has been focused on our employees, customers, consumers and communities. As soon as we understood the severity of the situation, we worked to secure the health and safety of our employees. They are the core of everything we do, and we are so appreciative of their efforts during this time. We reinforced our food safety, worker safety and poultry biosecurity programs with extra measures where appropriate, following the advice of public health authorities. We also established a pay premium for our frontline workers that do not have the option to work from home during this crisis.   

We developed robust and costly contingency plans to keep our business operating during the most extreme circumstances. Unlike other businesses, we must carry on operating given the fact we market a product from a hen that will continue to lay eggs regardless. We cannot simply build several weeks of inventory and shutdown if required. 

Another important focus for us during this crisis has been communication. We increased messaging to all our stakeholders in order to be transparent about changes going on in our business, recognizing the important role eggs play in the lives of Canadian families.

Finally, as a sixth generation Canadian family business that has been farming in Canada for over 125 years, Burnbrae Farms and the Hudson family have always supported the communities in which we do business, however, during this crisis we have felt the need to do more. 

  • We have been supporting local Food Banks and other community groups with donations of both eggs and egg products and, to date, we have donated over 300,000 eggs and counting.
  • We have been working with the local provincial egg farmer associations to help them with the sourcing and distribution of even more eggs to those in need.
  • We are providing a $50,000 donation to our local hospitals to support the purchase of PPE during this crisis.
  • We are providing eggs and egg products to Ronald McDonald House Charities to help families of children receiving care during these difficult times.
  • We provided product vouchers directly to families with children in need through The Grocery Foundation’s Toonies for Tummies program.

Impact on the supply chain

With over 1,000 egg farmers caring for chickens to bring eggs to Canadian families, Canada’s Supply Managed system has positioned our country well to ensure a steady egg supply. As well, the Egg Farmers of Canada run an exceptional third party audited Food Safety and Animal Care program, ensuring farmers follow proper biosecurity practices, which has helped the industry to manage through this crisis. 

That said, despite having eggs available, we did need to adapt our business in order to redirect product from one channel to another, especially in the early stages of the crisis.  With the rise in demand at grocery retail and the reduction in food service sales, we experienced a shortage of Large eggs and a surplus of Medium eggs. We had to encourage our retail partners to carry more Medium eggs in order to fulfill grocery store requirements. This issue was further compounded by a shortage of egg cartons, with our fiber egg packaging suppliers struggling to keep up North American demand.  Again, we adapted by offering these medium eggs in 30 pack shrink-wrapped trays.  The supply of eggs remains vulnerable to the availability of packaging and we continue to work on contingency plans in the event of further shortages.

In general, all parts of the supply chain, whether they are crop growers, egg farmers, feed mills, packaging manufacturers, graders or processors, have incurred heavy costs to implement all the necessary actions and measures to deal with this crisis. This is resulting in a magnification of cost through the supply chain. The financial burden of this crisis has been a heavy one to bear for many agricultural commodities and we will be recovering from this situation for some time. 

Your business takeaways from this experience

We have a great team here at Burnbrae Farms. I have been so proud of how everyone has stepped up to do their part. We all take great pride in being part of a company considered an essential service. Our leadership very quickly pulled together a Pandemic Preparedness Plan that addressed not only the needs of our employees, but also our operations and supply chain, keeping eggs flowing to Canadian families. Our frontline colleagues continued to work through the crisis despite any personal risks.  And my family, the Hudson family, has demonstrated incredible support for our leadership team, colleagues and communities since the crisis began. I am so incredibly proud of what we have accomplished together.  

None of this would have been possible without great retail partners that were also able to move quickly, with listings and driving items into distribution. Together we literally accomplished in days what can sometimes take more than a year. 

Not only did we pivot quickly with respect to supply chain and product offering, but I am amazed at how quickly our system’s department set up our employees to work remotely, and how effectively everyone has worked from home. This would have been a very different experience even as little as five years ago. This crisis has forced people to use the amazing tools that have been recently developed - video and online conferencing, online shopping, home delivery, zoom, etc. I do believe that we will come out of this crisis a changed business and a changed society. We will have new ways of working and interacting. Hopefully, we will find ourselves spending a little more time with our families in our homes, cooking from scratch, living life a little more slowly and really appreciating what is important. We will be changed forever, hopefully for the better. 

The final thing I will say is that it is very clear that the food supply is resilient, and it is important. As Canadians, we have access to one of the safest most affordable food systems in the world. It is nice to feel appreciated.

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