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23 July 2020

A local approach to a global pandemic

All industries, in every corner of the world, have felt the impact of Covid-19 during 2020. Whilst its spread has been exponential, at AB Sugar each of our operating businesses has adapted procedures and practices to ensure continued supply to our customers as well as maintaining the protection of employees at our sites. We continue to evolve these actions in line with local guidelines but here are some examples of how each business has handled the pandemic so far:

China – AB Sugar China

As the first country impacted by the virus, our AB Sugar China colleagues played an essential role in sharing learnings to support our other businesses and to help them steer through the challenges presented by Covid-19. From sharing insight and key learnings about the adoption of strict lockdown measures to supporting staff in navigating through the changes to business as usual. Capitalising on digital technologies already in place across the business became paramount, with the team able to stay connected with growers in remote northern regions of China during a pivotal stage of the sugar beet campaign as crop was contracted for 2020/21.

Looking more widely to communities hit by the virus in China, AB Sugar China’s Zhangbei and Qianqi factories have donated a total of RMB 160,000 yuan to local charity organisations, including the local Red Cross. These funds have been put towards supporting the purchase of PPE and meals for frontline workers.

Spain – Azucarera

Food supply has been a critical concern during the pandemic, with many food banks experiencing more demand than ever before. Our teams in the north and south have made regular deliveries of sugar to food banks including Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Guipuzcoa, Burgos and Valldolid Foodbanks, Jerez Town Hall, the regional Government of Madrid and other local charities based in Azucarera’s premises areas. Furthermore, to help address the essential need for PPE, the team has donated acid-proof boiler-suits and hospitals gowns to Toro Primary Care Health Centre, helping to protect frontline workers.

But the sense of community has not just been a focus for our local teams, our growers and customers have been getting involved too. In the south growers have been spraying disinfectant on the roads around one of our factories. We’ve also been recognised by some of our customers for continuing to supply our ingredient to help keep food chains active across the country. 

Southern Africa – Illovo Sugar Africa

In our African markets, the team was hit by the pandemic at a crucial moment in the sugar production calendar, just before the new season commenced, putting teams under immense pressure to get the factories ready and ensure any maintenance plans were completed. The need to overcome hurdles became a priority, such as ensuring the safe and swift movement of parts from one factory to another, to gaining the necessary permits and abiding by different guidelines for cross-border movement with each of our six countries at different stages of the pandemic. With Government advice changing so rapidly, it has been no small feat keeping up to date with the restrictions as they continue to evolve.

In anticipation of managing cases of Covid-19 in our rural communities, our healthcare clinics and hospitals purchased and supplied essential ventilators, as well as ensured isolation facilities were made available. Pre-screening and temperature checks are completed prior to entry to minimise transmission risk. These measures have been implemented alongside the provision of regular healthcare clinics. As the pandemic continues to evolve, our clinics are constantly reviewing and reworking medical staffing plans to lessen the risk posed to our teams and the local communities. Alongside the practical supply of PPE, the team are working within the community to educate on public hygiene and social distancing measures. 

United Kingdom – British Sugar

The team at British Sugar has provided support for the pandemic relief effort in numerous ways. At the start of the outbreak in the UK, they more than doubled their production of ethanol to help make hand sanitiser, with donations going to local NHS and police authorities, as well as wider suppliers. With local foodbanks under increasing strain, the team has been regularly delivering sugar to a range of food banks and charities across the country in Lincoln, Grantham, Nottingham, Bury St. Edmunds, and West Norfolk.

Despite being in lockdown and with strict social distancing measures on site, colleagues at the Newark Factory alongside growers, contractors and hauliers, completed the longest ever, uninterrupted, campaign run in Europe of 208 days.

Europe and the USA – Germains Seed Technology

Similar to our sugar businesses, Germains has continued to deliver its seed products to customers across its operations as well as take contract negotiations online using digital methods. They’re continuing to work through local lockdown restrictions and the need to streamline staff on site at factories to abide with guidelines. Teams have shown great flexibility and have supported each other on specific activities when the business need has been heightened, for example when orders were at a maximum, fulfilling distribution requirements to ensure on-time delivery.

From a community aspect, the business has donated face masks, financially supported local charities to its sites and joined a collective initiative in the Netherlands to support the flower industry by purchasing flower bulbs to give to local care homes; bringing joy to vulnerable people in the community. 

Facing uncertainty for the foreseeable

Whilst some countries are still in the early stages of the pandemic, others are already experiencing second lockdown restrictions. However, what unites us all is the focus on keeping the business operating, delivering products to our customers and consumers, and protecting our people. Examples of the above activities from across our businesses will continue as the pandemic evolves.

To read the latest blog from our CEO, Dr Mark Carr, please click here.

Notes to editors:

To watch our video on how we've adapted to the global pandemic, please click here.

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