COVID-19 - Greenyard Annual Report -

Safety as our first priority

Alexander Verbist

“When the first wave of COVID-19 hit Europe, we immediately knew we needed to take drastic measures to guarantee the safety of all our employees”, says Alexander Verbist, Group Legal & HR Director. “As we are active in a vital sector, we could not simply shut down our activities. Despite difficult circumstances, it was amazing to see how fast our people adapted to the new situation, enabling us to take up our role and responsibility in society.”

In March 2020, COVID-19 started its rapid spread through Europe. Italy was the first European country to be hit by the corona wave. In very challenging circumstances and in an extremely short timeframe, Greenyard Fresh Italy was able to implement measures to keep our employees safe. At the same time, they ensured the undisrupted supply of fruit and vegetables to the market, products people were increasingly looking for. In this way, we set the standard for the entire group.

​​​​​​​Reorganised for social distancing

“Warehouses, production units and reception desks that are essential to our business were completely reorganised to ensure social distancing”, says Alexander Verbist. “Measures included the placement of plexiglass screens and hand sanitisers, arrows indicating walking directions, and so on. We also organised people to work in clusters to limit the number of contacts.”

A corona taskforce, consisting of both local and group employees, was established to coordinate all efforts within Greenyard. “Swift communication was key, with direct newsflashes in different languages to keep everyone informed. It was also important to keep a close eye on the different measures that were taken in different countries, taking into account varying confinement regulations depending on the local and regional evolution of the pandemic.”

​​​​​​​Working apart together

Later on in the year, Greenyard maintained its vigilance and proceeded with caution. “Better safe than sorry was our motto. The strict measures in our warehouses and production plants largely remained in place and office workers were encouraged to work from home and keep time spent at the office to a strict minimum. Our efforts paid off: we were spared anymajor COVID-19 outbreaks within our workforce.”

Working from home certainly had its challenges, especially during the first lockdown when many people had to combine their work with childcare because of school closures. But people soon found out that homeworking also has its benefits: they spent much less time in traffic and as they became more familiar with digital tools, online meetings proved to be just as efficient – if not more – than live meetings. Our people were also supported through best practice sharing regarding the organisation of virtual meetings and a complete working from home guide.

The quick adoption of digital tools had a positive effect on collaboration within Greenyard, as they facilitate the sharing of documents, information and knowledge. Online meetings break down barriers between colleagues working in different locations, divisions and countries. “There are many lessons to be learned from this crisis. I’m pretty sure virtual meetings are here to stay as we evolve towards more hybrid ways of working. Although I have to say that I am looking forward to see many of my colleagues again in person in the coming months. And I am sure I am not the only one”, says Alexander Verbist.

Healthy choices

COVID-19 had a profound impact on consumer habits and purchasing behaviour, as many people spent a lot more time at home. But the pandemic also reminded us of the vulnerability of our health and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

As the pandemic unfolded, many people rediscovered the benefits of physical exercise and took up the habit of walking outdoors. This trend also extended to the way we consume and prepare food. Cooking from scratch became more popular as people took more time to cook and eat together at home. It led to a remarkable growth in the total sales of fruit and vegetables, the latter in particular. Convenience solutions such as our mealkits benefited as well.

The long shelf life of produce from our Long Fresh segment was particularly valued in periods of confinement with many shoppers stocking up on several weeks’ supply as back-up leading them to discover the convenience benefits of the segment.

It is still too early to predict whether these trends will turn out to be permanent and have a lasting impact on our habits, but one thing is clear. COVID-19 has reminded us of what matters most: our health.

Thank you to our #foodheroes

The closure of restaurants and canteens suddenly changed consumption patterns and led to an unexpected and strong growth in supermarket sales. During the first weeks of lockdown, the situation was further complicated by hoarding, which put a severe pressure on logistics and supply chains. It immediately demonstrated just how vital our sector is to society.

Rising to the challenge

Alongwith our growers, partners and suppliers, we rose to the challenge and helped our retail customers cope with the sudden increase in demand. Using the basic principles of our long-term relationships – agility, transparency and close collaboration – we spared no effort to make sure shelves werestocked with healthy food at all times.

We are grateful to all our employees, growers, partners and customers for their commitment and their hard work during exceptional times. They are true #foodheroes!