With the number of cases of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) growing by the day and a number of states enforcing “shelter-in-place” orders, natural product manufacturers and ingredient suppliers are adjusting their practices to meet the new realities of working during a pandemic.
Guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and President Trump’s declaration that workers in critical infrastructure have a “special responsibility” to continue working, which include health food stores and supplement manufacturers. However, many companies have opted for non-essential staff to work remotely and have added extra safety precautions for employees that are required to be onsite.
“Firstly, we have shifted to remote work for as many of our non-manufacturing office staff as possible, and for those whose work is directly involved we created two teams, alternating between office-essential work and work that can be taken home, especially in redundant roles,” said KG Rao, CEO and president of Dolcas Biotech (Landing, NJ). “We are keeping close contact at a minimum. Other precautionary measures we have taken include excluding visitors and minimizing interactions with delivery persons. We take forehead temperatures and require hand sanitizer use for all persons who must enter the facilities daily, including staff. Further, we are sanitizing the warehouse and receiving area after every delivery.”
Shaheen Majeed, president worldwide of Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ) noted that while the company’s manufacturing standards already adhere to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and other international regulatory bodies as part of cGMP (current good manufacturing practice) compliance, Sabinsa has reinforced the necessity of effective hand washing practices and good hygiene to all our corporate, R&D, warehouse and manufacturing facilities’ staff, worldwide.
The company has also installed additional hand washing facilities and implementation of increased sanitation practices are in place as per WHO (World Health Organization) standards, and the latest release from FDA, compounding with United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) grade ingredients. “We are well stocked with personal protective equipment and antibacterial products,” he said in an announcement to customers and colleagues.
As a number of manufacturers source ingredients from overseas, some have seen a delay in ship times and others said they are using up their back stock faster than anticipated.
“We are trying our best to maintain business relationships and contacts,” said Dr. Shavon Jackson-Michel, DolCas Biotech’s director of medical & scientific affairs.“However—one of our major business partners is in Italy—which is being ravaged at this time. They are in South Italy, but at this point, the entire country is locked down. We continue to reach out to them, to check-in and wish them well,” “So far, there haven’t been any manufacturing challenges, however, getting requested material to us has been slowed. This, unfortunately, echoes in India, as a shipment was just sidelined with new restrictions imposed by the prime minister on the movement of cargo by sea. In Morocco, where another one of our brands originates from, we have been told that their newly erected manufacturing building and high-performance machines, which were awaiting installation technicians from France where the machines were purchased, has been halted due to travel bans. We were awaiting material from this new process facility, so, unfortunately, there will be some disruption with this ingredient.”
In a letter to customers, Wilson Lau, vice president of California-based Nuherbs, noted that cargo ships and air freight are nowhere near usual levels. And because of the delay in people returning to work and producing goods, container ships were leaving China nearly empty, trips have been canceled. “Air freight shipment is faster than cargo but is only a short-term solution because of the expense …The situation for supplement manufacturers is made more daunting by the tariffs, which are still 25 percent on dried herbs, and not a lot easier for items that were being tariffed at 15 percent and are now rolled back to 7.5 percent.”
While Nuherbs said it has been able to fill most orders thus far, order volumes are extremely high, like many other suppliers and manufacturers, which is causing delays in shipping.
“We are doing everything we possibly can to safeguard the health of our associates and communities, while also ensuring our ability to honor commitments made to pharmaceutical customers in terms of meeting their increased requirements,” said Sunil Jha, group chief human resource office for ACG in India, who also has an office in New Jersey.
“These are unprecedented times calling for unprecedented measures,” he said, “and we promise to stand strong alongside all health care providers fighting on the front lines of this pandemic.”