Covid-19 regional view: The Americas

Liz Cooley finds out how the foodservice industry is rallying to support those impacted by Covid-19 across the Americas region

The number of coronavirus cases across the Americas has grown exponentially in the last few weeks, with the US, Canada and Brazil among the worst hit.

In the US, multiple states have introduced lockdowns and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending the widespread use of facemasks. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) estimates that more than 3 million people have lost their jobs and sales have plummeted by $25 billion.

Meanwhile, Restaurants Canada estimates 800,000 have lost their jobs since March, with one in 10 restaurants shutting down permanently.

Increasing measures

“Unfortunately, I do not believe [the industry] will come back quickly,” said William Caruso FFCSI, president of FCSI Worldwide in a recent Society board roundtable on Covid-19. “I think it will take a little while. The general consensus is many small, independent restaurants, clubs, bars, etc, may not make it. It’s going to take maybe 2-3 years in some cases to sort all of this out. This is an unprecedented situation,” says Caruso.

“For small, independent restaurants, as many as 30% are not going to be able to turn the lights back on and operate. But, I can see the corporate world and healthcare segments quickly returning,” agreed Eric Norman FCSI, chair of FCSI The Americas.

Countries across Latin America have closed their borders, with Argentina and Mexico among the first to announce lockdowns. The streets of many Latin and South America have military patrols enforcing curfews.

The rapid rise in cases and increasing measures to combat the virus have unsurprisingly had a significant impact on the foodservice industry.

But there are also countless stories of the foodservice industry pulling together to support the relief efforts. From grants for industry employees to meals for front line personnel, these actions are keeping the heart of the industry alive.

Support for communities

Restaurants across the region are setting up initiatives to support medical personnel and first responders, as well as those in vulnerable communities. From independent bakeries to national chains, the outpouring of donations is phenomenal.

Sweetgreens has launched Impact Outpost, a program to deliver free salads to US hospital workers and medical personnel, donating over 10,000 meals so far.

Starbucks is offering free coffee to police officers, firefighters and medical personnel and Uber Eats is committing more than 300,000 free meals to healthcare workers and first responders in the US and Canada.

In Chicago, US, Nick’s Pizza Place is holding a raffle every Friday, where a winner is picked from the carry out business of each location and given 20 pizzas to send to any hospital or first responder location they want.

“Our relationship with our community is really important to us,” says CEO Nick Sarillo. “This is just one of the ways that we can give back.”

Frontline foods – currently operating in 28 cities across the US – is working to gather local, independent restaurants, who may have had to close for business but want to help, in providing meals for local hospitals.

Frontline Foods is partnered with World Central Kitchen (WCK), set up by chef José Andrés in 2010 to combat hunger and poverty – particularly in areas affected by natural disasters or where people have been displaced.

In February, the relief team opened a second kitchen along the US-Mexico border, to serve refugees waiting for asylum. In March, Andrés traveled to California, to feed passengers quarantined on the Grand Princess cruise ship.

WCK is mobilizing restaurants across all 50 states under the hashtag #ChefsForAmerica, coordinating the efforts of volunteers to provide individually packaged fresh meals for children, seniors and vulnerable communities.

“One of the things that has rattled people across the US is the fact that 22 million children depend on school for their free or subsidized lunches,” says foodservice consultant Rudy Miick FCSI. “There has been a huge outpouring to donate food parcels for these children and their families. My hope is that we’re going to come out of this with bigger hearts and a bigger sense of connectedness.”


Another avenue of support being offered is by manufacturers and food production companies that are able to retool.

Numerous breweries and distilleries across the Americas have turned their hand to producing sanitizer, following a recipe provided by the World Health Organization.

Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser, is one such company that is producing and donating sanitizer to hospitals and frontline workers, working with local governments and hospitals.

“We have a long history of supporting our communities and this time is no different,” says the company. “As supply shortages intensify in the fight against Covid-19, our breweries have begun using technology from our non-alcohol beer brewing process to create disinfectants from the surplus alcohol.”

Other more regional based enterprises joining the efforts include Shine Distillery in Portland and 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company in Colorado, US, as well as Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Ontario and Victoria Distillers in Vancouver, Canada.

Financial support

New relief measures, which include deferred tax payments, increased liquidity access and a 75% wage subsidy, have been introduced for small- to medium-sized-businesses in Canada. This will allow businesses to keep paying furloughed staff even if they’ve had to close.

“We’re thinking about that family-owned restaurant that’s been around for years,” said prime minister Justin Trudeau. “Employees who’ve been there through slowdowns, good times and bad times, and now in this moment of crisis they’re having to lay these people off at their time of need.” The Canada Emergency Response benefit is also available to individuals who have lost their jobs.

In the US, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, provides some reassurance for the restaurant industry, but challenges remain, says Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the NRA.

“This measure is an important first step to help restaurants weather the storm, take care of our employees, and prepare for when we are given the signal to open our doors once again,” says Kennedy.

In response to the problems being faced by restaurants trying to claim against their business interruption insurance policies, some US states are also pushing for legislation that would force insurers to cover shutdowns due to Covid-19.

To help restaurant industry employees experiencing a loss of wage or unemployment because of Covid-19, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation has set up the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. The list of companies supporting the fund through donations is growing by the day, and includes the likes of PepsiCo, Uber Eats and Corona Extra beer.

Liz Cooley




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