Teams of employees in Wattie’s factories in Hawke’s Bay, Christchurch and Auckland have been working as never before to help keep supermarkets stocked in their efforts to satisfy consumer demand in these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 crisis.

The range of products include Wattie’s tomato sauce, Wattie’s baked beans & spaghetti, soups and canned and frozen meals, frozen peas and mixed vegetables, and dips. On top of these are the seasonal products like peaches, pears and beetroot.

All this while, the country’s largest tomato harvesting and processing season is underway in Hawke’s Bay. Harvesting started on February 21 and is scheduled to continue until April 22. With social distancing requirements extending to the fields, the job of harvest operators can become very lonely with 12-hour shifts.

In its 86th year of operation, the country’s largest canning plant in Hastings is working 24/7, establishing new record production volumes while adhering to strict protocols mandated by MPI and enacted by the business to keep staff safe.

The record output in a single 24-hour period has been 1.6 million cans. End-on-end these cans would stretch for 170 Kms.

Managing Director Neil Heffer said in all this activity the single highest priority is keeping people safe.

“Our people have been magnificent in adapting to the new protocols which range from the changeover of shifts, social distancing in the operating areas (and screens on production lines where that is not possible), to seating arrangements in the cafeteria.”

In the canning plant, employees involved in each of the three shifts wear differently coloured arm bands to ensure there is no cross over between them, and there is a 20-minute separation time between one shift and the next.

“Our people there and in the other plants have been amazing, and we take our hats off to them. They have had to deal with altered family situations, households in lockdown and new workplace protocols, and they come to work eager to do what they can.

“There is a sense of caution, given the current Covid-19 situation however, people understand and respect the safety measures in place,” said Heffer.

Wattie’s factory manager in Hastings April Bartle reports a new sense of camaraderie has developed among fellow employees during these unprecedented times.

“These efforts are being acknowledged in the rest of the company where a campaign has been launched under the banner ‘We Applaud” to recognise the role that the factories are playing.”

An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is in place which provides employees access to free counselling; and arrangement are being made for staff to be provided with free issue food cans.

The mayors of Hastings and Christchurch, Sandra Hazlehurst and Lianne Dalziel, have also acknowledged efforts of people at the local plants, with Mayor Hazlehurst also putting a call out for additional new employees for the Hastings plant.

The message from Mayor Hazlehurst has been: Hastings Council stands proudly behind the team at Wattie’s in keeping the food supplies rolling...let’s keep New Zealand full of beanz!!”

“We are thrilled to see the ‘can do’ Cantabrian spirit alive and kicking in the Wattie’s team and its growers. Feeding our fellow countryman with the world’s best peas takes skill, and the work you are doing on the frontline is greatly appreciated. Let’s keep the peas flowing…!" said Mayor Dalziel.