Bulla Dairy utilises Smart Badge technology

Following a successful trial period, Bulla Dairy Foods (Bulla), is the first food manufacturer and installer to roll out wearable contact tracing technology, Smart Badge, across its sites allowing the business to increase contact tracing efforts.

Read more

How Nestlé came out on top during COVID-19

When you’re a big conglomerate like Nestlé, reputation is key – not just in terms of the products  you produce, but how you look after staff.

Nestlé is a world-renowned food and beverage company, which means it is a vital industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. This also means it has to go through a lot of adjustments when it comes to the processing and manufacturing of products.

Alain Riesterer is the company’s Technical and Production director and has worked all over the globe in many different environments. He knows how important it is to keep staff safe, which is why the company implemented strategies before the pandemic hit that in turn meant the teams were anticipating a number of challenges that lay ahead.

“Since the beginning of COVID our operations have run full,” he said. “We have not had a single day of shut down because one of our main reasons of existence is to supply food to the population. That is very clear in this situation of crisis. We have seen several countries where there were potential food scarcity situations, which is why it was important for us to be able to supply food to the communities.”

From an operations point of view in, the company’s seven factories in Australia started with best hygiene practices and standards – that included additional hand washing and sanitation for hands with alcohol-based solutions. Also, from the beginning of the crisis, Nestlé implemented mandatory temperature control at the entry of all of its premises.

“We have also created a Team A and Team B structure in every single one of our operations in order to ensure the social distancing,” said Riesterer.

“We have a rule of two metres, some companies have a rule of 1.5m. In some places in our operation we could not ensure the 2m, so we went into physical barrier installation such as plexiglass separation between our employees.”

Team A and Team B were implemented by the company’s head office first. It has also implemented shift patterns on site at its factories – a morning shift, afternoon shift and night shift. Senior staff ensure that the shifts are consistent with start and end times with the same people so there is minimum cross-over. This means less risk of any cross-contamination between a staff member who might inadvertently come to work infected.
Riesterer said that a lot of the practices that the company has implemented, such as social distancing and physical separation between its employees, will stay and probably never go back to the way things were.

“At the end of the day, it is part of good hygiene practice. We also learned a lot and we proved that we could operate with these new circumstances,” he said. “We also ensure that between the shifts – the cross over – is limited to the bare minimum so we don’t have any potential cross-contamination between the different people.”

Panic buying can produce its own set of problems, mainly in terms of the supply chain and with raw and packaging materials. Luckily, Nestlé was also prepared in that instance, too.

“We did have some raw materials that were coming from overseas and we reacted very fast at the very beginning in increasing our stock cover,” he said. “Fortunately for our factories in Australia, we did not have any major disruption. We followed closely what was happening with raw and packaging material in different countries worldwide. At the moment we have certain raw materials coming from the US and we will increase our stock cover in advance. We have managed a very fluent supply during these last three months without major disruption.”

With a lot of uncertainty around the markets in many industries, some would think it might be time to sit back, take stock of the situation, and perhaps even pare back some activities. Not so, with Nestlé – it’s business as usual.

“Planned maintenance and capex are continuing,” said Riesterer. “From a crisis, there are a lot of opportunities. And I think the mindset of the people and how to embrace that change. This is where we have been very good – at all levels of the organisation from the shop floor up to the management of our factories in our organisation. Nobody wants to go through something like COVID-19 but at the end of the day it’s the adaptability of the organisation that will make it successful.”

A lot of the company’s maintenance needs are met by its own technicians. Being an international conglomerate, Nestlé does have parts suppliers from around the world but this has hardly affected its Australian operations, although like a lot of companies at the moment, it is careful about who it allows onsite and when.

“We limit access to third parties because we want to minimise risk. The health and safety of our people is our key priority, we therefore implemented remote support via
web based technologies, such as, video-conferencing.

Nestlé also did something extraordinary for a conglomerate with a huge workforce.
“We implemented a special 14-day COVID-19 leave, which is additional to the sick leave and holiday leave that is paid,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is to keep the workplace safe. A lot of industries have taken similar steps to ensure that frontline employees are safe, are motivated. We need them. Without them, nothing happens.”

Riesterer said that the company is malleable when it comes to how things will be in the future. He knows that COVID-19 will probably have a lasting effect on how a lot of companies are run. However, he isn’t ready to hang his hat on any one aspect that will change, only that the way things are done will not be the same.

“Are we rethinking the way in which we work in the office? Yes. What is the future? I do not know,” he said. “It has been a very interesting period for everybody. I think we have found out that by using new tools, it allows us to achieve a lot, of which maybe in the past, we were not so convinced.”

Woolworths’ helping hand for community initiatives

The last 12 months has been one of the biggest on record for Woolworths’ support of vulnerable Australians, particularly for the many individuals, families and farmers impacted by drought, then bushfire, and more recently COVID-19.

“Supporting the communities in which we operate has always been part of Woolworths Group’s DNA. However, in the current crisis and during recent natural disasters, community takes on a much broader definition,” said Brad Banducci, Woolworths Group CEO.

“We have recently doubled down on our commitment to work together with partners like OzHarvest, Fareshare and Foodbank to provide food to Australians who need it most, while our eCommerce business has remained focused  on continuing to support vulnerable customers.”

Being part of almost every community in Australia means that store team members within Woolworths play an integral role in responding to immediate needs of their local community.

They provide the on-the-ground support for national community initiatives, particularly during times of disaster.

“Our store teams should be an integral part of their local community and are often directly impacted themselves by a disaster. They experience first hand what it is like on the ground, and this knowledge plays a key role in informing where our support should be directed in our national initiatives.

“It is about us listening to our team, customers and the community more broadly and uniting over the outcomes we all wish to support and achieving that through collaboration,” said Banducci.

The past year Woolworths and their major charity partners have been particularly busy.

Drought
The effects the ongoing drought has on the food industry are measurable in many ways, such as shortages of supplies and price fluctuations.
In 2018, what began as support at a local store level in regional stores in New South Wales and Queensland for communities impacted by drought, turned into Woolworths’ largest national fundraising appeal of the decade.

A combination of customer fundraising and corporate donations saw Woolworths raise over $8 million for Rural Aid, enabling them to deliver 37,231 tonnes of hay on 806 road trains to 3,233 farmers, as well two additional, full-time, on-the-ground counsellors.

Bushfires
In late 2019, with the drought worsening, bushfires were out of control, which saw businesses, homes, communities and habitat across multiple parts of the nation destroyed.

In response to the bushfires, Woolworths Bushfire Appeal in partnership with the Salvation Army was launched in November 2019 and raised over $5m.

When these bushfires hit, the Salvation Army sent in over 3,000 officers and volunteers to support the frontline emergency workers with hundreds of thousands of meals and light refreshments, many times teaming up with the local Woolworths store on the supply of goods and preparation of meals.

On New Year’s Eve and into early 2020, as the bushfires continued to devastate towns and communities, they also destroyed the habitats and food supplies of many vulnerable and endangered native species such as the Mountain Pygmy Possum, Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby and Grey-Headed Flying Fox, which is so critical to pollination of many critical plant species.

New partnerships were borne out of the impacts the fires were having on wildlife in local communities.

“Our teams in the affected areas and our customers raised the alarm bells on what this loss of habitat could mean to the environment and asked for action to support the rescue and recovery of these animals,” said Simon Tracey, Woolworths community manager.
Woolworths began working with the NSW Government’s “Save our Species” program, to donate tonnes of fruits and vegetables directly into dozens of National Parks to feed these endangered species.

“We also extended our food rescue and recycling program to launch the ‘Woolworths Food for Wildlife Initiative’ with WIRES. This sees many of our stores donating surplus fresh food directly to the many local carers that nurturing these native animals back to health and returning them to new or old habitats as their naturally occurring food sources return,” added Tracey.

Woolworths earlier this year also expanded its S.T.A.N.D. (Support Through Australian Natural Disasters) program to incorporate four major partners – the Salvation Army, Rural Aid, Foodbank and Lifeline. Twenty cents from each sale of Woolworths Spring Water 24-pack and Woolworths Spring Water 10-litre pack is being donated to support the natural disaster work of these charities.

COVID-19
The initial spread of the coronavirus saw many people change their shopping behaviours and led to stockpiling of many essential products. At first it was toilet paper, but then the many key staple foods that Woolworths’ hunger relief partners rely on.

In March, Woolworths entered a new partnership with Meals on Wheels to supply toilet paper to help support their elderly and vulnerable clients across Australia.

“With the elderly being the  most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus and being asked to self-isolate, this partnership allowed us to  work together with the entire  supply chain and replenishment team,” said Tracey.

Woolworths worked with dozens of local Meals on Wheels centres to distribute 320,000 rolls of toilet paper, which was two packs for almost every Meals on Wheels client in the country, across hundreds of towns and cities in urban, rural, regional and remote locations.

One of Woolworths key commitments is to addressing food insecurity and food waste.
“That is why we have a number of food relief partnerships, but it was our relationships and support of our three largest partners – OzHarvest, Foodbank and FareShare, that we immediately increased to support those in immediate need as a result of COVID,” said Tracey.

FareShare, who operate Australia’s two largest community kitchens in Melbourne and Brisbane, could not rely on its army of volunteers, so Woolworths Group stepped in to provide support with chefs from its shuttered ALH hotels business to work within the kitchens through April, May and June.

Woolworths’ national Fresh Food rescue partner, OzHarvest, likewise saw a fluctuation in food supply  and demand.

With an initial dip in available volumes of fresh food from donors, it then broke records with April being the largest volume of food they have ever rescued and distributed.

Foodbank, also saw an immediate impact on supply as the public stocked up on the many essential items such as rice, pasta, pasta sauce, tinned food and toiletries, that are always of the highest demand with the thousands of food relief charities they support.

“To assist our food relief partners without disrupting our stores during a period of increased product demand, we provided additional financial support to help them with their operating costs, then set up parallel supply chains, often purchasing food directly from our suppliers to donate directly to our partners.

“This operation ran from late March through to the end of June, with over $8 million of funds injected and many new and agile business solutions in place to support such needs in the future,” said Tracey.

What does Victoria’s lock down mean for food and bev?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced several changes to the manufacturing sector in Victoria. Non-essential manufacturing will be hardest hit, however for the food and beverage sector, it is pretty much business as usual with one main exception. In a statement released today, Andrews stated that while emergency measures are in place, some industries are too important to close down. And while they may stay in operation, there will be some restrictions. “Whether it’s our food production, waste collection or supply chain logistics we need some things to continue — but they’ve got do so safely,” he said.

All open businesses and services will have until 11:59pm Friday 7 August to enact a COVIDSafe plan focused on safety, prevention and response in the event that coronavirus is linked to the workplace.

“In industries that can’t close, but where we’ve seen a number of cases or emerging new risks, we’ll be making some big changes to make these workplaces safer — for workers and for their families,” he said. “That includes mandated reductions to the number of workers onsite. In the meat industry — and based on the minimum required to operate safely onsite — the workforce will be scaled back to two-thirds. Unlike other changes, and recognising the risk these sites have posed here and around the world, this will apply to abattoirs in Melbourne and across the state.”

Supermarkets, grocery stores, bottle shops, pharmacies, and post offices will continue to remain open for business under Victoria’s stage 4 lockdown restrictions that covers metropolitan Melbourne run from Sunday 2 August and will last for six weeks until Sunday 13 September.

Advice from the Department of Health and Human Services recognises the importance of public transport and freight and logistics as essential services to the Victorian community.

“The Department is also working closely with the ports, freight and logistics sector as an essential service to make sure essential supplies get to where they need to go,” The Victorian Department of Transport said in a statement.

Heavy vehicles are able to pass time-based curfew “no trucks” signs when they are making deliveries of food or personal hygiene products to retail outlets for six months. Heavy vehicles can also remain in loading zones for the time required to make these deliveries.

Industry operators are asked to ensure adhere to the health and safety protocols to protect their workforces and the public.

There are also changes to supply chain industries under the state’s stage four restrictions. Warehouse and distribution centres in Melbourne will have to reduce their workforce, be kitted out in full PPE and subject to routine COVID-19 testing. Warehousing and distribution centres in Melbourne will be limited to no more than two-thirds the normal workforce allowed onsite at any one time.

 

Nestlé workers get three months pay if shut down occurs over COVID-19 – extra leave too

Food manufacturer Nestlé has gone the extra step when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and has added extra leave to its employees who have been affected by the pandemic.

Where the company needs to temporarily stop operations, all affected hourly and salaried staff will be paid in full for a period of up to 12 weeks.

It has also extended additional leave for those affected directly. Any employee diagnosed with COVID-19, or with a household member diagnosed with COVID-19, directed to self-isolate and unable to perform their job, will be paid up to two weeks paid special leave (10 days for a full-time employee working 5 days per week) above personal leave. For casual employees, this will be based on their planned shifts. Additional special leave may be available which will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Nestlé is also providing reasonable access to paid support for parents and guardians who are unable to attend work because they are the primary carer for their children in the event of a school or childcare centre closure.

 

FoodByUs sees 33 per cent increase in NSW since lockdown lifted

The Sydney-based food-tech company, FoodByUs, has experienced a 33 per cent sales increase in NSW since the dining restrictions were lifted. In addition to seeing many of Sydney’s best restaurants opening back up to dine-in customers, the uplift in sales is also due to FoodByUs welcoming 20,000 in one month, accounting for around 15 per cent of its weekly orders.

The online marketplace supplies first class produce to restaurants in Sydney, but decided to open to consumers in March as 80 per cent of hospitality trade sales dipped following Covid-19 lockdown laws. This has been a success, allowing wholesalers to keep staff employed and enabling consumers to save huge amounts on their grocery bills with the added convenience of free delivery.

“The NSW hospitality industry has been starting to feel a taste of the new normal after one of the most difficult times the industry might face. In NSW, this has been echoed by a FoodByUs sales increase of 33% since the dining restrictions were lifted on 15th May to allow 10 diners, then 50 diners from 1st June. In the leadup to the 1st June, we experienced a week of record sales as venues geared up to reopen their doors. We hope we can avoid a second wave and any further restrictions added to those announced on Tuesday 14th July,” said managing director Ben Lipschitz.

“We recognised a need to help our wholesalers stay afloat after hospitality trade dropped around 80% overnight following the lockdown laws. We also recognised a need to supply top quality produce to consumers who were trying to avoid leaving their homes and weren’t finding what they needed at supermarkets due to such high demand. We’re pleased we were able to help wholesalers keep their staff on board while maintaining some income for already hard-hit Australian farmers,” said Lipschitz.

Takeaway Tuesday designed to support struggling food sector

The national campaign #EatAloneTogether which was launched by Restaurant and Catering Association (R&CA) in partnership with Entertainment and Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), has evolved into #TakeawayTuesday.

The movement was originally launched in March to support restaurants during the height of COVID-19 restrictions. As part of the campaign, R&CA and UFS declared Tuesday, 19 May as National Takeaway Day, which gathered support from thousands of restaurants who promoted the campaign to their communities and encouraged customers to support their local restaurants and cafés by ordering takeaway.

To help the hospitality industry supplement their reduced dine-in business, and grow demand for takeaway and delivery, R&CA and UFS have evolved #EatAloneTogether into #TakeawayTuesday – encouraging all Australians to place an order every Tuesday in support of local restaurants and casual dining.

#TakeawayTuesday will kick off on 21 July and thereafter every Tuesday, while restaurants across the country are experiencing reduced dine in volumes. NSW has implemented new restrictions to cut patron numbers and Melbourne has been forced into a six-week lockdown as of 8th of July. In the lead up, R&CA, UFS and Entertainment will be building awareness of the day and encouraging the public to order takeaway, pick up or delivery from their favourite local and hashtag them to show support.

How one company handled the COVID-19 crisis and came out on top

Contracts are signed, tradies are ready to start, the building site is now open, and there are deadlines to meet. Then a once in a century event happens – the COVID-19 pandemic.

What happens now? Does the site close down? How long will government restrictions last? How will staff be looked after? What about penalty clauses in the contract if deadlines are missed? These and a dozen other questions go through the collective heads of many executive committee members at construction companies.

For food and beverage construction specialist, Total Construction, it was a matter of building on health and safety procedures it already had in place before COVID-19 struck and restrictions were enforced. The company’s CEO, Jeff Jones, said they were being proactive from the get-go.

“We adopted temperature testing before it was put out there by the government,” said Jones. “We were testing every single person who came onsite. We asked people to sign declarations about whether they had travelled overseas. We did all the virtualisation of the office space – less people on site where possible. We had project managers dialling in – all that sort of stuff.”

Throughout the first couple of weeks, the company did have a couple of scares, resulting in a site being shut down, and a hygienic clean of the whole area. However, there have been no reported cases on any of Total Construction’s worksites.

Procedures in place included the company’s Code Red process, which was part of its administration online tool. It lets Total Construction know it has a notification of an incident onsite and controls who communicates to the client and contractors. Because if it is not controlled properly, issues will arise, according to Jones.

“We decided early on there would be one source of information and that would be me for the vast majority of it,” he said. “There are updates for the staff throughout the process about an infected site or possible infected cases. They come to me and I was responsible for communicating to clients and subcontractors.”

One of the key ingredients to making sure operations ran smoothly was how staff reacted to the changes. Without their cooperation and buying into the new “normal”, it would have been harder to implement the new processes, said Jones.

“Our workers were amazing,” said Jones. “Two things – their willingness to adopt change was better than I thought it would be and we asked them to do a few more things outside the norm, such as asking them to take reduced pay or extra leave. I suppose this is where your work culture really sings true. The loyalty we have received from staff has been great.”

Jones said it wasn’t until the crisis came about that he saw the Total Construction workforce take initiative in its true sense, whether it was dislocated from a workplace, or dealing with a client’s needs remotely. As for the business itself, there was the expected downturn in terms of projects going ahead. Total Construction had almost 40 projects ready to go to tender at the beginning of the year, but when COVID came around, only eight actually came through. The good news is that another 10 have re-commenced the tender process since the beginning of June. However, some of the issues were not so much if the client was ready to green light the project, but whether supplies – especially those sourced from overseas – were available.

“We did have some early concerns about some supply items. We were caught short sometimes due to deliveries not arriving,” said Jones. “We were lucky. We didn’t suffer too much delay from that. We did see a little drop in productivity due to the social distancing. In its early stages, certain trades were finding it hard to get people to turn up to site if there was a concern about health. But by making our sites as healthy as we possibly could, we saw a swing around the other way, where we had contractors wanting to turn up to our site because they knew we protected their workforce better than some other contractors. It became an opportunity to have more resources on site.”

Then there was the issue of reassuring clients there were not going to be cost blowouts.
“We had some conservative clients that weren’t sure if the pandemic was going to increase the construction costs because the project got delayed ” said Jones. “Now, there is certainty and it doesn’t seem to have as much time impact as we first thought it might with supply items or productivity. I think a lot more is known now compared to two months ago and projects are starting up again.”

With the food and beverage industry, some builds have gotten underway while others have had to be put on hold, but not for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic itself, but peripheral issues, too.

“It’s been a mixed bag with food and bev builds,” said Rob Blythman, general manager for the company’s Engineering Construction Group. “When they are crucial projects, and when they are vital to their operation, time wise and production wise, they have all gone ahead. Whereas there have been others that have stalled because even though they’re sort of necessary works, they can wait. Some are sitting back and waiting for things to change in the general environment, particularly with regard to government stimulus and things of that nature before they push the go button.

“There was a food and bev project in Queensland we were set to start on in mid-March, but they had to shut it down before we began. This was because their particular product was deemed essential, and they didn’t want any potential risks to their production. Across our clients, there are some projects that have been delayed where they are not a priority and they can afford to push it back,” said Jones. “There are others that can’t afford it and we’ve had to start it straight away and there are a few in the middle that can’t risk disruption due to construction.”

Having food and beverage and aged care expertise it certainly meant that Total Construction was more cognisant to dealing with health issues across the whole spectrum because it was already working in high-risk live environments. It meant that its safety committee didn’t differentiate between an industrial sector project environment to any other project. Safety is safety, said Jones.

Jones finishes by stating that he believes that COVID-19 might even tweak the way some companies now do business.

“It might even change the long-term employment relationship,” he said. “This is because we’ve talked in the past about people used to work in one job for their whole life and how there is loyalty both ways. Over the last two decades this has deteriorated. As a result of the pandemic it has emphasised the value of loyalty going both ways as businesses work together with their staff to firstly survive and then thrive.”

Are you ready for your market’s reboot?

The pandemic has transformed consumer behaviour. Now more than ever, brands need Mintel experts to tell them: what consumers want and why. Watch to see how we can help:

To find out more, click here.

Gas provider helps businesses diversify during COVID-19

Change is something that can be embraced, or seen as an unnecessary disruption that can cause anxiety. But what happens if that disruption is unexpected and takes away, literally, your whole market share.

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on a lot of industries and businesses. And while food and beverage have generally come out of it okay from a consumer point of view with regard to supply and demand (pasta anybody?), there are certain sectors that have suffered considerably. Imagine you are a caterer who specialises in weddings, or a major supplier to airlines. One way to try and make up the deficit is to diversify.

And quite a few companies have, according to food-grade gas supplier Air Liquide’s Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) specialist Remi Saget. Like a lot of companies hit by COVID-19, Air Liquide has seen a downturn in some of its areas of business, but there has also been interest in other aspects.

Some impacted food manufacturers have decided to expand offerings and started looking at other markets, whether it is online with home deliveries or via retailers. Supplying food products to such channels helps tremendously when shelf life is extended, which is possible using MAP. And in order for MAP to work, you need a good gas supply, which is where Air Liquide comes into its own.

Saget said there has been an increase in queries from SME manufacturers about how they can get longer shelf life for their food. Indeed, supermarket chains and independent grocers need products to stay on the shelf for longer than a day or two, often making it part of their requirements.

“We have had an upturn in requests,” said Saget. “We have seen more demand for food-grade gas, especially for ready meals. For some companies this is already their business, but many restaurant chains and catering companies had to change quickly to the same business model that would allow for home deliveries, selling at supermarkets, or selling online.”

In order for a company to be able to pack ready-to-eat meals, it needs to have a packaging machine that is capable of getting the meal prepared for being sold in store.

“It’s not a difficult transition to make if you have the correct packaging machine,” said Saget. “Obviously, you need to have one that has a gas flushing capability. You cannot gas flush manually.

“Packaging machines come in all sizes. Even your local butcher has a bench-top vacuum machines that could gas flush, or be retrofitted to do so.”

He said that gas is the last piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, manufacturers need to have the food right, then the packaging machine, the plastic tray and film, and then the gas. For ready meals, Air Liquide recommends a mixture called Aligal 15, which is made up of 50 per cent food-grade nitrogen and 50 per cent food-grade CO2. But this ratio may be adapted on a case-by-case basis.

“How it works is that the machine takes all the air out. It is the oxygen that will spoil the food eventually,” he said. “Then you add the gas. It takes a few seconds. The gas is food-grade, it is not chemical or anything like that. It’s considered a processing gas, so it is not an ingredient or a preservative and does not need to be on the label.”

Saget is confident that while some of these companies have had to look for new markets out of necessity, he doubts they’ll stop producing gas-flushed food products once the industry gets back to normal.

“It’s probably going to be the case for most companies that have gone into the ready meal business that they will stay in there once things have gone back to normal,” he said. “They have been doing it for a few months now and they realise that it is working well, and it would allow them to have an extra stream of revenue. People are used to buying online, so they can easily keep their online shop open and keep delivering to people.”

One such firm is catering company Harvest By Darren Taylor, which saw the bottom fall out of its business, with 100 per cent cancellations of weddings and other events it had been booked to supply food prior to COVID-19.

“They also operate a bakery and make great pies and croissants for cafes across NSW,” said Saget. “The sale of bakery products they did went down by 95 per cent. They had to rethink their business model.

“The good thing was for founder Darren Taylor, he could start pretty much right away thanks to a machine he purchased earlier.

“I helped him with the right gas mix according to his food. We did some tests together to make sure the gas was flowing okay. Now he is selling online and is also selling to independent supermarkets across NSW. He also sells to a big chain of butchers where his packed dishes are available in the open fridge next to the counter where you buy your meat. He is very happy.”

Taylor said he got an opportunity to get into the ready meals market in late 2019 and was planning on getting started halfway through 2020, but due to the effects of COVID-19, he decided to enter the market sooner.

The majority of outlets require prolonged shelf life to avoid dealing with products that are past their use-by date. This is especially true for ready meals, where they are packed in air, and they usually stay fresh for only a few days. A preservative-free conservation method like MAP helps.
“We got a packaging machine in Melbourne, and we looked at all the ways of extending the shelf life of the product and we decided to go with the MAP method,” said Taylor.

“We went with MAP because of the look of the product, it keeps the integrity of the product and it is very safe and reliable. After ordering the machine and getting it in, we did a whole lot of tests. We developed a product that we thought would suit that application.”

Taylor was very pleased with the service from Air Liquide in terms of getting it all set up.
“Remi and his team were amazing,” he said. “Remi was extraordinary. He came in at the very beginning and we got the machine working in a way we were happy with it. Remi helped us with our gas levels, our oxygen levels, etcetera. ”

The beauty to the system, according to Taylor, is that he cooks the food, trays it up straight away, puts it in the blaster until it comes down to 1˚C, and then packs it.

“It’s as good as you can get in terms of packaging. The film, the tray and the label – which is stuck on – are all microwave-oven proof. It has zero additives or preservatives,” he said. “By using MAP, you don’t have to put any chemicals in it.”

With the eyes on the future, Taylor and his food manufacturing business emerges from the COVID-19 crisis better positioned to face ever-changing market demands. The fact that he was able to swiftly adapt his operations is a reminder that tight partnerships with suppliers goes a long way when help is required to come out of a dark time, pandemic or not.

Insights into agricultural trade during COVID-19

Australia’s agricultural trade has held relatively steady during the COVID-19 pandemic, however the export of some commodities such as seafood, have seen a downturn.

In the early stages of COVID-19, there were significant concerns for Australian agricultural trade and the impacts we may see. Over the past few months however, agricultural trade has thankfully held relatively steady.

Head of Agricultural Forecasting and Trade for ABARES, Dr Jared Greenville, noted that official trade data shows that between January and March 2020, most agricultural exports continued to leave Australia and reach consumers in international markets.

“Where exports are down on long-term average figures, this is mostly due to the effect of the recent drought on domestic production levels.

“But there were exceptions, and significant disruptions did occur, particularly for sectors closely linked with food services, and those reliant on air freight to get their produce out of the country,” said Greenville.

“Seafood is a key example of this, and we saw exports in this space fall sharply in February 2020. This was due to the timing of the spreading pandemic with peak seafood export periods, and a more significant reliance on air freight (approximately 76 per cent of seafood export value).

“While there was some recovery in March, our seafood exports remain well down on long term average results.”

Domestic production relies on continued access to imported goods like chemicals, fertilisers, agricultural machinery and veterinary medicines.

“The trade data shows that these goods have continued to arrive, despite the pandemic. Most of these products arrive by sea, which has been much less impacted than transport by air,” said Greenville.

The global economic outlook is a significant concern going forward, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forecasting a 3 per cent contraction in global economic activity in 2020—an outcome that is worse than we experienced during the global financial crisis in 2007/08 (IMF, 2020).

‘Because agricultural exports mostly relate to food, the impact will most likely be felt through softer prices, rather than significantly reduced consumption. This is what we saw during the global financial crisis, when agricultural trade remained steady despite the economic turmoil that followed.

‘Not all products from the sector are essential though. As economic activity declines and global incomes are reduced, products consumed through more discretionary spending are likely to be affected, such as high quality food for cafés and restaurants.

‘For products which feed exclusively into manufacturing supply chains such as cotton, wool and wood products, demand may be affected by manufacturing closures, disruption to construction, and the effect of falling incomes on the purchase of new clothes and other durable goods.’

Depending on the course of the pandemic, economic activity is expected to begin normalising in 2021.

For agriculture, the pandemic has highlighted the risk of concentrated supply chains for certain goods and services. A diversified supply chain, which includes domestic and multiple international options for imported inputs and export markets, allows for risk mitigation and continuity of supply in almost all situations.

Visit the COVID-19 Hub on our website for more detailed insights into the impacts of the pandemic on our industry.

See our article on how the Australian Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism is helping to get Aussie exports off the ground during COVID-19.

Beef – during and beyond COVID-19

As parts of the world cautiously ease out of lockdown and reassess COVID-19’s impact on the beef sector, Rabobank’s latest global Beef Quarterly has revised down its global beef production outlook, and forecasts slowing beef demand in a declining economy.

However, the Q2 report said the Australian cattle market was more favourably placed –limited supply and improved seasonal conditions continuing to dominate the local sector and maintain strong cattle prices.

Beef processing disruptions
Beef supply chains and distribution channels emerged the major casualties of COVID-19 during March and April, particularly in the US, where, Mr Gidley-Baird said, cattle slaughter dived almost 50 per cent below 2019 levels following beef processing plant closures and slowdowns.

“This limited capacity placed enormous pressure on beef supplies and fed cattle numbers, with prices adjusting accordingly,” he said. “Beef prices jumped to record levels – the comprehensive cutout reached USD 470/cwt in early May – and fed cattle prices dropped.”

Although US production was now improving, with plant capacity, as of mid-May, down only about 10 per cent, Gidley-Baird said the backlog of cattle was not expected to be cleared until late 2020 or early 2021.

Globally, the spread of COVID-19 continues at pace in a number of countries – Brazil’s processing sector is currently on high alert – and he said Australia had been fortunate to avoid any major disruptions to beef processing capacity, its production constrained only by the limited national supply.

Production outlook
The report’s revised-down forecast for 2020 global beef production dropped about one per cent on 2019 levels, with a number of factors beyond COVID-19’s disruption affecting the outlook, Gidley-Baird said.

High levels of female slaughter in Brazil and Australia in recent years had reduced breeding herds, Australia’s current rebuilding efforts reducing the number of cattle sent to slaughter.
Australia’s east coast cattle slaughter for the year to date was down eight per cent, while female slaughter was down 13 per cent – demonstrating producer demand to rebuild herds.

This reduced slaughter had, Gidley-Baird said, reduced exports by one per cent, year to date, with disruptions also shifting export markets – reducing numbers into China during February and March, before a recovery in April, and decreasing exports into the US throughout March and April.

In Brazil, he said, cattle slaughter was believed to have fallen by nine per cent in Q1.
However, a reduction in imports from China – down 29 per cent month on month in February – and a decline in domestic consumption had weakened demand, so supply and demand was balanced, maintaining cattle price stability.

“Brazil is currently experiencing drier conditions, so we expect the supply of animals for slaughter to increase, and with domestic consumption continuing to decline, we forecast Brazilian exports to increase, particularly considering the strong devaluation of its currency, down 40 per cent since the start of the year,” Gidley-Baird said.

Processing slowdowns in the US, plus Argentine tax regime changes and a softening of demand in its export markets, also contributed to the lower production estimate, Mr Gidley-Baird said.

Slowing economic outlook
With Rabobank forecasting a severe downturn in the global economy – with world economic growth contracting 2.6 per cent in 2020 – Mr Gidley-Baird said there would be repercussions on beef demand.

“As a perishable product, there is a consistent relationship between production and consumption – whatever beef is produced will be consumed relatively quickly,” he said. “The question then becomes ‘at what price will we consume the given quantity?’.”

He said past economic downturns suggest beef demand declined – with consumption during the global financial crisis and past European downturns stimulated through discounting.

“With economic stress there is also the risk that consumers shift to cheaper animal protein, such as pork and poultry, or to less expensive beef cuts,” Gidley-Baird said.

This trend, he said, was expected to continue throughout a deep recession, with a change in consumption patterns likely to evolve over the balance of 2020.

Disruption still felt in supermarkets due to Covid-19

To navigate the world beyond COVID-19, innovation that improves life for all rather than playing by the rules to manage risk is imperative to growth in the food and beverage industry. Speaking at the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology Convention, Kantar Australia’s head of sensory, Dr. Denise Hamblin says that “brand loyalty has been disrupted and there has never been a more important time to ensure our products are as good as they can be.”

In April, 93 per cent of Australians were unable to find their usual grocery brand or product in store. “This happened across an average of 13 grocery categories, and when it did, 9 out of 10 people chose a different brand. Where a home brand alternative was chosen, 78 per cent were ‘as satisfied’ or ‘more satisfied’.”

As product availability returns to pre-crisis levels, 3 in 10 Aussies continue to buy alternatives.

Thirty per cent of Australians surveyed as part of  Kantar’s Covid-19 barometer between May 22-26 plan to continue to buy the new brands they purchased during product shortages, with 27 per cent also continuing to shop at new stores they’ve discovered in the height of the pandemic. Over half are paying more attention to products on sale and on price.

“Ultimately, building value around the products and experiences we curate are vital in this climate.​ As concern around getting sick has reduced, the worry has increasingly turned towards the future, especially around an economic recession – and this brings more aversion to risk,” said Hamblin.

“For older Australians and those in a ‘conformity’ mindset, this may mean demand for the same brands and products for a lower price; but younger generations and those in a ‘rebellion’ mindset are more likely to try new and different things that provide better value for money.”

The coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity for brands to gain new consumers

“As we navigate our way towards a ‘new normal’ this is anticipated to continue, particularly in households with children,” says Hamblin. “In April, over half of Australians reduced their frequency in supermarket visits from an average of 2.5 to 1.7 times a week. At the same time, the propensity to shop online has increased for a third of us, with the purchase of food and beverages increasing the most of all categories.”

“This is a huge mass trial of a service,” said Hamblin. “Clearly unexpected in its widespread nature too as only just over a third of Aussies felt that grocery shopping online yielded an excellent user experience.”

Kantar’s qualitative studies also reveal the biggest pain points for online grocery shopping during the pandemic is the absence of sensorial stimulation as a motivator and for enjoyment. While an added cost at a time when price sensitivities prevail, doubt around product freshness and the inconvenience of imprecise delivery slots take strong reign. Price and provenance are also key to what brands should be thinking about to put the consumer at the heart of what they do.”

“With 57 per cent of Aussies paying more attention to homegrown products, if your product is owned, made or grown in Australia, then it’s a great time to ensure consumers know about it.”​

Forty-two per cent of Australians say they will maintain most lockdown behaviours – especially food and wellbeing

As lockdown measures began, Aussies began to cook more frequently and more often from scratch. Fresh ingredients, healthy meals and new recipes were key.​ As lockdown progressed – and has now eased – Aussies are still increasingly trying to gain consistency with eating habits.

“While the crisis has forced many to do more to look after physical and mental wellbeing, it has also beckoned us to snack more and seek out treats,” said Hamblin. “This creates new opportunities for the food and beverage industry, just in a different environment.”

Return-to-work trends also provide opportunities for the food industry to innovate

Only 57 per cent of Aussies have a return-to-work timeframe in mind given concerns about hygiene and social distancing, as well as the commute and public transport. For the food industry, this may mean less reliance on office-provided snacks and ‘on-the-go’ solutions but opens the opportunity for supporting workers to prepare their own lunches.​

“Safety is paramount, and this extends into buying products to protect ourselves – especially important to households with children. We’re seeing an increased propensity towards vitamins and supplements. This also indicates a real opportunity for food and beverage innovators to develop functional and fortified products,” said Hamblin.

“Considering the consumer’s need for more considered, purposeful activities and connections as we emerge out of isolation; along with a renewed focus on health, a desire for local, an eye for value and new confidence, shopping online will stand any brand in good stead. Brands should also pay heed to what Aussies increasingly want from them at this time – to guide the change, use their knowledge and inform. The new normal presents opportunity for brands innovating to leadership.”

Red meat exports to China remain strong due to swine fever

African swine fever remains the key driver impacting the global animal protein market, despite the effects of COVID-19 on demand, Rabobank’s latest African Swine Fever Update has shown.

And this is being borne out in Australia’s red meat exports to China, which remain strong, according to latest figures.

The Rabobank update said African swine fever was still the major influence on global pork markets, and it continued to impact pig herds and restrict pork production in China, Vietnam, the Philippines and parts of eastern Europe.

Despite Australia’s total red meat exports being down 16 per cent year-on-year in May, exports to China are down only four per cent – reflecting strong Chinese demand in the wake of African swine fever, despite disruptions due to COVID-19.

Rabobank senior proteins analyst, Angus Gidley-Baird said considering Australia’s reduced production, current export figures highlight China’s strong appetite for Australian protein.
“While exports into China are not quite at the levels they were at the end of last year – when African swine fever-driven pork shortages were driving strong Chinese demand and Australian production was much higher – they are close to levels seen at the start of 2019, which is a positive outcome for the domestic industry,” Gidley-Baird said.

China’s pork production is expected to decline by a further 15 to 20 per cent in 2020, while in Vietnam and the Philippines, declines are expected to be close to 10 per cent, prompting further import demand from these countries.

In China, Mr Gidley-Baird said, pork imports were expected to reach record levels, while imports of other animal protein types would also be strong.

“China’s pork import growth accelerated in the first four months of 2020, with meat imports up 180 per cent, year-on-year, and variety meat imports up 29 per cent year-on-year,” he said.

Rabobank maintained its view that China’s pork imports would reach a record level of about 3.5 million metric tonnes in 2020, with the majority of product supplied from the US, under the US/China ‘phase one’ trade deal.

However,  Gidley-Baird said imports for the rest of 2020 were still full of uncertainty, with disruptions to pork production and logistics in exporting countries, and movement in China’s domestic pork prices.

He said imports could ease through the current quarter, picking up again in quarter three and quarter four.

“But, COVID-19 and slower economic conditions aside, the protein gap created by African swine fever provides a strong demand force that will help support prices for Australian red meat exports for the remainder of 2020,” Gidley-Baird said

“African swine fever will continue to underpin Chinese demand for Australian sheep and beef exports, as consumers look to substitute pork with alternative protein options.”

Bundaberg commits $11 million to help during COVID pandemic

Queensland brand Bundaberg Rum, owned by parent company Diageo, has announced the creation of ‘Raising the Bar’, an $11.5 million fund that will support Australia’s bars, pubs, and clubs as they rebuild following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any licensed venue in Australia, whether they’re regional or metro, and regardless if they’re a Bundaberg Rum or Diageo stockist, can apply for support through the ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative that will fund a two-year programme rolling out from July 2020.

‘Raising the Bar’ will directly support jobs, recovery, and innovation in the Australian hospitality industry. Pre-COVID-19 Australian pubs, bars and clubs employed more than 500,000 Australians and contributed $17.2 billion in revenue.

“Our hospitality industry sits at the heart of our community and Australian culture. The joy of being able to connect with friends and family down at the ‘local’ has been sorely missed throughout this pandemic, while the economic impact on the industry has been unprecedented,” said Angus McPherson, managing director at Bundaberg Rum’s parent company Diageo Australia.

“Many in the hospitality industry are small businesses that employ thousands across the country and as we start to recover and rebuild, Bundaberg Rum wants to stand by their side and support them in getting back on their feet just like any Australian would do for a mate.”

Both Government and industry have come out in support of the fund and how it will help this critical industry that accounts for 8 per cent of Australian jobs, get back on its feet.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and our communities. Seeing the resilience, innovation and spirit amongst Australian small business operators, including in the hospitality sector, as they have faced the challenges this year has been nothing short of inspiring,” said Hon. Michaelia Cash Senator and Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.

“Businesses and workers in the hospitality industry have shown great ingenuity by innovating and adapting as the devastating effects of COVID-19 have impacted us all.

“I welcome the introduction of the ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative. These support measures will provide additional support to Australia’s bars, pubs and clubs which have all been severely impacted by the social distancing measures required to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

 ‘Bundaberg Rum, through their parent company Diageo, stepped up for Queensland when we needed it most, generously donating 100,000 litres of ethanol to produce hand sanitiser to ensure our front-line workers were kept safe at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Queensland,” said Queensland treasurer, the Hon. Cameron Dick.

‘Once again, Bundaberg Rum has proven their commitment with the ‘Raising the Bar’ recovery fund for Australia’s hospitality sector, which has been so hard hit by the pandemic.

‘Like the Queensland Government, Bundaberg Rum knows how important it is to support and create jobs, and we thank them, once again, for investing in Queensland.’

‘Doing business in a post-COVID world is a new challenge for every industry and it is initiatives like this that will allow more businesses to keep their doors open during these challenging times,” said NSW treasurer, the Hon. Dominic Perrottet.

‘These support measures will allow more pubs and bars to open safely, directly supporting tens of thousands of jobs across the country as we move from the response to recovery phase during this pandemic.

‘The hospitality is a key contributor to the NSW and national economy and it is important businesses continue to adopt innovative approaches such as these, which I have no doubt will provide not only short-term gains but long-term benefits.

‘The NSW Government is doing everything we can to support all sectors of the economy to keep more people in jobs and businesses in business.’

From 24 June 2020, venue operators can register their interest for ‘Raising the Bar’ funding via http://www.diageobaracademy.com. The industry can also register to receive regular updates on best practice training and resources and be able to participate in global surveys to share insights, as they build back their businesses.

This announcement is part of a broader commitment by Diageo to invest US$100 million globally in ‘Raising the Bar’ programmes that will support venues as they recover from the impact of COVID-19.

The impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality sector has been widespread, with the closure of venues the world over. As governments begin to ease lockdown measures, the public want to come together again to connect with their community and socialise safely. Through the establishment of ‘Raising the Bar’, Bundaberg Rum and Diageo aims to help any licensed venue anywhere in Australia open its doors again and welcome back their patron

A guide for returning people to work safely

With COVID-19 restrictions easing in some states in Australia, a workforce that has spent a lot of the past couple of months at home, is now starting to return to work. Here are some practical steps to take into consideration, especially if you are in the food and beverage processing and manufacturing sector.

  • Manage employee expectations. To ensure a successful transition back to the office, employees need to feel their employer has done everything to maximise their safety at work. Before you re-open, organise a full disinfection coronavirus precautionary clean, which includes a precautionary cleaning of all personal spaces in addition to shared touchpoints, such as door handles, remotes, kitchen taps, microwaves, fridges, and coffee machines.
  • Plan your space using the four-square metre rule. The existing seating or working plan of your workplace may no longer be viable for the distancing rule of four-square metres per person. To determine how many staff you can have on the premises at once, calculate the area of the workspace in square metres and divide it by four. To allow for objects, such as desks and boardrooms, divide the space by eight. For example, if your office is 160 square metres, you could only have up to 40 people in the room, to allow each person to have four square metres of space.
  • Initiate a rotational working system. Once you have calculated how many employees you can have on site, create a roster system that includes all relevant employees. For example, if you employ 100 people, divide that by five working days, and you’ll find yourself with a 20 person ‘team’ that can come into the office on a set day per week. However, don’t forget the four-square metre rule, which can be achieved by re-configuring furniture to increase physically distancing or getting staff to ‘own’ a different desk to what they are used to. Lisa says: “Whether your employees are rostered on weekly, fortnightly, on a ‘team’ basis, or an every-other-day basis, once you have your roster in place, I strongly recommend that each person uses the same desk or workspace each time they are at work. Hot-desking and shared workspaces present too much of a risk.”
  • Appoint an on-site COVID-19 champion. Select an appropriate person in your organisation to be the ‘champion’ of keeping employees’ hygiene levels on tracks. Someone with Workplace Health and Safety knowledge, such as a human resources team member, would be ideal. They would become the go-to person for other employees to ask questions about how they can navigate the ‘new normal’ working environment. For instance, the champion would check in with each team member to gauge what’s working, what’s not, and if they require any additional information or support. They would also manage the upgraded cleaning schedule for your office or workspace and ensure team members remember to wipe down and clean their equipment after use. Lisa says: “Choosing a champion that keeps everyone aware of best safety principles – from good respiratory hygiene to encouraging people to stay home if they show any flu-like symptoms  – will reassure staff that their health and safety is the priority. It also has the benefit of making them feel like their organisation is ‘there’ for them, and that they have the emotional comradery they need in our new style of working environment.”
  • Create a plan for ongoing sanitisation. Consider equipping each employee with their own bottle of hand sanitiser, hospital-grade anti-viral disinfectant, and cleaning cloth when they return to the workplace. Having individual sanitary equipment will also alleviate any worry that multiple people are handling the disinfectant.
  • Assess and determine how to use shared meeting spaces. Up until the outbreak of COVID-19, open-plan offices with shared desks and ‘pod’ meeting areas were becoming the preferred way of working for many organisations. However, for the foreseeable future, these more casual meeting spaces with soft furnishings – surfaces that need to be steam-cleaned, often at a considerable expense – should be avoided, as a virus has the potential to last on these surfaces for up to 24 hours. If you can, choose a more traditional meeting room with hard surfaces. Although the virus can live on glass, plastic, and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, these surfaces are much easier to clean and disinfect.
  • Incorporate company vehicles into your cleaning schedule. If you have company vehicles, forklifts, or trucks, these now also need to be included in your cleaning schedule – especially if multiple people use the vehicles. A minimum of one precautionary COVID-19 clean a week will ensure all surfaces within the vehicle’s interior are fully cleaned, and all external touchpoints are also cleaned, such as door handles and side-view mirrors.
  • Consider a cleaning concierge service. Most organisations – especially larger ones – have high-risk shared touchpoints used by site visitors and staff. These are best managed by a fully trained day-cleaning team who are uniformed and equipped to sanitise and disinfect touchpoints all-day long – whether they be kitchens, bathrooms, or meeting rooms. Though some might regard it as extreme, having an on-demand cleaning service will restore stakeholder confidence in your organisation’s hygiene standards day-in and day-out.
  • Hire a commercial cleaning specialist. Some cleaning companies have had to adapt quickly to the new COVID-19 risk environment, while others, especially professional commercial cleaning services, have been cleaning to a hospital standard for many years. Lisa says that organisations, especially those who have committed to additional safety standards, such as ISO 45001, should seek cleaners whose services are ISO certified. She says: “Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, Cleancorp – which is one of the few Australian cleaning companies to have achieved three ISO Certifications – was using vacuum pumps with HVAC power-operated scrubbers, and chemical foggers, to keep workplaces free from virus

Manufacturers should rethink global operations in face of COVID-19

Manufacturers must redesign and reform their Global Supply Chains or Global Production Networks (GPN) if they want to survive and prosper in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study reveals.

The virus’ impact demonstrates that global manufacturing concerns must switch from large production sites in a single location, such as China, to numerous smaller facilities around the world to reduce business risk.

Stability, reliability, resilience and predictability are critical in the design of global production networks that balance risk versus reward and harmonise economic value with values related to reliability, resilience and location.

There is a real tension between optimization of GPN and risks which ripple out across the globe. COVID-19 is the first time that these ripples have impacted on every country and the majority of people living on this planet,” said report co-author Professor John Bryson, from the University of Birmingham.

“It is unfortunate that companies, governments and geographers did not consider the outbreak of SARS in late 2002 as a testbed to develop new approaches to the management of risk. GPNs and offshoring, come with many risks that have been ignored.

“There is a critical social science debate within geography that must move from celebrating the dominance of GPNs as an organisational form to an on-going critical reframing that accepts that a fundamental rethink is required by global manufacturing concerns.”

Researchers used a database of 91 American companies to show that current dominant account of globalisation cannot explain the international strategies of 25% of these firms.

However, they found coronavirus highlights that the most effective GPNs balance cost control against risk – balancing production facilities in core markets against over-reliance on facilities located in lower-cost locations.

The rapid speed and economic impacts of COVID-19 have shifted the balance between state, citizens and businesses within national economies. During the pandemic, the state has engaged in a process of nationalisation with its exceptional degree of support for businesses and employees – becoming a key consumer and surrogate employer.

Researchers highlight that the most common operational response among American firms to the China-US trade war involved relocating suppliers from China to another low-cost country.

However, the impact of COVID-19, has seen firms beginning to develop strategies dealing with supply chain disruptions – with larger firms building regional supply chains, leaning more on technology for smaller firms, and focusing on efficiency and resilience.

“Globalization is not a novel concept, but COVID-19 has highlighted the risks associated with increasing interconnectedness of people and places through economic, political, cultural, and environmental changes,” Bryson added.

“Existing thinking on GPN design minimises costs and maximises economic ‘value’ rather than balancing profit against risk reduction – a high-risk approach that must change. We must reframe the debate on globalisation around the benefits and risks associated with deepening globalisation.”

 

Scientists find cheaper way to find outbreaks in wastwater

Tracking community outbreaks of COVID-19 through wastewater can happen faster, using more cost-effective tests, according to new research published by the Australian national science agency, CSIRO.

The new research builds on the world’s first peer-reviewed proof-of-concept trial run in Brisbane by CSIRO and The University of Queensland which tested untreated sewage and found fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Scientists have now refined their methods of concentrating and recovering the virus from wastewater samples, which can indicate the presence of COVID-19 carriers in the community, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

Seven methods were tested in the latest study, confirming the most cost-effective and rapid virus recovery process which extracts virus information from wastewater, so it can be tested, with each sample now taking between 15 to 30 minutes to process.

Worldwide wastewater monitoring could save up to $1.47 billion for national monitoring programs depending on frequency of sampling and population, according to research. Wastewater monitoring has been shown to be significantly cheaper and faster than clinical screening for COVID-19, but would be used as an added diagnostic measure.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said that as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, science has found a way to help individual communities avoid a second wave of the pandemic.

“This unique monitoring breakthrough will ensure each suburb gets the medical support it needs so all of us, as a nation, can stay healthier,” Marshall said.

CSIRO researcher Dr Warish Ahmed led the findings published in The Science of the Total Environment, which evaluated the concentration, recovery and detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA (its genetic code).

“We will keep refining the virus concentration and detection methods to provide more sensitive and accurate results of the viral load in wastewater,” Dr Ahmed said.

“This will provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community so public health officials can have as much information as possible to manage an outbreak in a timely manner.”

The results will be shared with a new global scientific collaboration, COVID-19 WBE Collaborative, which brings together more than 50 global experts in water-based epidemiology (WBE) to share testing methods and data on wastewater-based surveillance for the current and future disease outbreaks.

The wastewater testing is conducted on untreated sewage, collected as it enters a water treatment plant to provide community-level results.

Based on our knowledge of the persistence of SARS-CoV-2 in  wastewater, drinking water is very well protected against all viruses, including the new COVID-19.