SWEET STRATEGY: How industry handled retail surge in lockdown
EACH week The Daily Examiner will present COVID-19 Recovery Corner - a Q&A with previous Clarence Valley Business Excellence Award winners on business resilience, recovery, and transformation since COVID-19.
While social gathering rules have forced the awards component to be put on hold for 2020, the awards committee has shifted its focus to support local businesses by inspiring resilience, guidance and support on business recovery over this challenging period.
This week CVBEA chairman Adam Gordon caught up with Sunshine Sugar CEO Chris Connors.
Sunshine Sugar was a winner at the 2018 awards for Excellence in Work Health and Safety.
Adam Gordon: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We really appreciate your input and contribution to strengthening Clarence Valley businesses.
What is it like winning a Business Excellence Award?
Chris Connors: It really is a celebration with the community on how we approach the business. It's an independent assessment that rewards our staff, and our systems.
AG: Before the start of this COVID crisis, did you have any business continuity plans in place to cover a major crisis?
CC: As with most businesses, you do have plans in place. We have a strategic plan. As a part of that, we have risk management systems. Business continuity plans are all about risk management. So while Sunshine Sugar didn't have anything specific for this type of outbreak, we had a lot of things in place. It was a matter of adapting these and being very specific about this risk.
AG: So when this pandemic arose, Sunshine Sugar was able to adapt through your risk management plans?
CC: We very quickly identified what we needed to do. We made sure we had the right people in place, the right committees in place. We identified the issues, came up with the actions we needed to take, and made people responsible for those actions.
AG: Sunshine Sugar has donated sanitisers for schools through Manildra.
CC: One of the good things our partner Manildra does is support communities. They quickly put in place arrangements to have sanitiser and other sprays made up. Manildra are the biggest alcohol producers in Australia, so they can immediately adapt to making these products.
A G: What steps is Sunshine Sugar taking to maintain engagement with your customer base?
CC: As an essential service, food producer, we didn't have any shutdowns. What we did see was real pressure in the retail area because of the binge buying.
It is not just retail pressure; it is also our industrial market at every level. The refinery needs to have throughput to maintain sustainability. We are working to identify additional markets, and possibly export additional product.
We will also work with our customers to identify ways of making sure we get recovery back in place. That is not going to be easy. I don't think we have seen the full gamut of everything that is going to happen. There will be difficulties from our customers in paying their bills. That will have to be managed.
A key driver in our business is that we don't want to just produce sugar. We want to make a variety of products so that when we get into difficult situations, different bottom lines result from having different income streams. Our diversification programs are being developed which will deliver those additional income streams, such as low GI sugar and our botanical drinking water.
AG: Has this been a slowdown for Sunshine Sugar? How did you use the time?
CC: It hasn't slowed down, other than in the last couple of weeks, something we have always seen.
We are down in production. We expect over the next six months that will be the situation.
We will try and manage it by helping our customers get back to where they were. If necessary, we will look at exporting both white and raw sugar.
AG: Hindsight is wonderful. Is there anything you could have done which would have made the business more resilient to this crisis?
CC: Not really. One of the keys to this business is that we have a good strategic plan. When you have good strategic planning in place, you can manage these situations much better.
We are about risk management. One of the things that best demonstrate this is the actual crushing season. We have started early for the three mills. This is about managing the risk COVID brings with it. We could get a situation where you have an outbreak with people testing positive to COVID, leading to shutting down a mill for 14 days. That is a risk we had to understand and plan for. The best way to manage that was to start early, create a buffer or raw material that would allow us to shut down for a couple of periods.
AG: What do you see as the way forward from here, not just to survive, but to continue excellent business practices now and in the future?
CC: I keep coming back to our Strategic Business Plan. It has 28 actions in it. It is not a waffle plan. It says "this what we have to address", "here are the key actions we are going to put in place", "here are the people responsible" and "they have to report back against that".
If you continue with that process, you will ensure you have a diverse business, running with best practice, and an underlying operation that deals with safety, human resources, and takes action.
AG: Is there anything else you would like to add?
CC: At the end of the day, when you get this type of program in place it reflects on the community, it reflects on your ability to service that community. And I thank you for giving us the opportunity to participate, and to tell our region and the world about what we are doing.
AG: We are interviewing past winners as we realised we couldn't hold the Awards this year. We believe it would help the Clarence Valley business community by talking to people who have demonstrated excellence, and their approach to resilience and recovery, which Sunsine Sugar has certainly done.