napa county california news

Dealing with the virus, San Francisco North Bay food industry finds leadership in its ranks

When shelter in place went into effect on March 17, many businesses closed their doors, shuttered their manufacturing lines, and sent their employees home.

People rushed to stores to buy paper goods and cleaning supplies, but they also stocked up on cans of soup, frozen foods, cheeses, dairy products, breads, and other essential food items.

Many of these products are made here in Sonoma County by companies like Amy’s Kitchen, La Tortilla Factory, Clover Sonoma, Straus Family Creamery, Traditional Medicinals, Costeaux, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Guayaki, Manzana, and Cowgirl Creamery. They are among the nearly 60 members of the North Bay Food Industry Group (FIG).

Deemed essential, these companies kept their doors open and production lines staffed. But they also had to hurry to implement safety protocols to protect their staff and keep them safe. For them, the Great Restart was already happening.

With lightning speed, management practices had to change, and policies put in place to incorporate the use of masks, hygiene, and social distancing. Organizations mobilized to make their people the number one priority in their business.

Production schedules had to be altered to accommodate increased time between shifts so exiting teams did not interact with incoming teams. Break rooms had to be reserved only for the people on the same production shift.

Plans had to be put in place should a production team member test positive. As food production was deemed an essential business, the need to do this right was even more urgent to serve the community well.

This was a a daunting task, one too large for any one company to figure out all on their own. Carolyn Stark, along with several of FIG board members, immediately set up weekly Zoom calls with its members that quickly became a lifeline for its 60 member companies.

This weekly forum resulted in quickly solving immediate needs like finding PPE and thermometers. When masks were hard to find in the marketplace, FIG members shared sources and, in some cases, used their purchasing power to buy enough for smaller companies in our FIG community as well.

Importantly, it has created a place to further share best practices – like how to take temperatures in a plant that runs 24 hours a day, how best to care for employees, and what to do if an employee tests positive – daunting problems for any one company to figure out but fairly easily solved amongst a group of trusted peers.

Suddenly the 60 companies no longer felt alone out there but instead united in collaboratively solving their ever evolving and changing needs in the COVID-19 world.

The North Bay FIG has served this same role for a decade in Sonoma County but today’s sense of urgency created by COVID-19 has served to highlight the importance of industry peers coming together to solve problems collectively and collaboratively.

After weeks of this, we have come to terms with this new normal and realize there is not going to be “business as usual” ever again.

We have had to adapt our business expectations as much as our business practices.

And we have found that relying on our core values – values which emphasize people, community, and service – has helped us to face the challenge of COVID-19 and realize that maybe there has never been a better time than now to create positive, productive change.