Reports on the corona crisis from our offices

The coronavirus has the entire world in its clutches. We asked our employees at BioTropic branches what the situation looks like to them.
You can read their reports here.

 


Dick Troost, Manager – BioTropic Netherlands office
“We are all doing fine, but from now on, new, stricter measures will be in place. All events have been cancelled up until 1st June. The number of people permitted to be outdoors together is restricted to a maximum of two, excluding families. The Mayor could close the city’s parks or beaches if too many people begin to congregate there.

Our staff are now mainly working from home. Only two of our 10 employees are working at the office, in order to process documents and inspect the warehouse. On the one hand, efficiency has increased as our staff can work in peace. On the other hand, they are missing the day-to-day exchanges with colleagues. If I need something, I can’t simply speak to the relevant colleague, instead I must write them an email or call them on the phone.

There are many products that are currently unavailable from the Netherlands, however this is always the case at this time of year – here, we are focusing on the products in stock in our warehouses. Our sales of these products have increased drastically. The biggest problem we are facing in our product flow is the lack of staff to package the goods. In supplier countries such as Peru, Costa Rica, Argentina, and the Ivory Coast, they also only have around half of their workforce available at the moment.

As citizens, we have the solution to the coronavirus problem in our hands; we must stay home and avoid hospitals, contrary to popular belief.” 


 

Odile Bouron, Manager – BioTropic France office
“In the Perpignan region, there is a full lockdown in place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. We are very limited in our movements – you may only travel a distance of maximum 2 kilometres from your home for personal reasons. We have obtained special allowances for travelling to work.

Hardly any people can be seen on the streets. Panic buying has now subsided. Supermarkets are still stocked. When I went shopping at the weekend, it was quiet, there were no queues, and everybody was observing distancing measures.

Currently, it’s just myself and Nathalie at the office. Willem, Jean Eric and Christine are working from home. We’re managing. As long as we still have products in stock, we will continue to come to the office. After that, we will also start working from home.

Flow of goods from Morocco: We are no longer receiving goods from the supplier PBS; they are completely shut down. We recently received our last shipment of mandarins by HGV, the remaining stock is available for sale. However, our office will continue to sell products that are in stock in the Netherlands.

We need to reconsider our stance and course of action on a daily basis. To achieve this, we must all communicate with one another.”


 


Doris Thewes, Manager – BioTropic Italy office
“Italy is under a full lockdown. When shopping at supermarkets, it feels like a war-time situation: People must queue for 45 minutes at the entrance, as only a limited number of people are permitted to enter the supermarket. Public life has come to a halt.

All staff are working from home. Working from home can be a challenge – some are able to concentrate better and are extremely productive, but for others, it takes some getting used to. Everybody is doing their best, which will help us to keep the business running. Logistics operations are being conducted with a skeleton staff, as is the case with field work and in warehouses. This is primarily due to the harsher quarantine restrictions, such as school closures. Additionally, many of the employees do not have their own car or are simply afraid, which is understandable.

Often, it is only on the day that companies will find out how many of their employees will be available to work. Due to the increased demand seen in recent weeks, the available staff have been largely overwhelmed and have worked a great deal of overtime. However, I’m sure this situation is similar to your own. Cultivation (which is currently undergoing a change in seasons), harvesting and transport activities will continue as long as this is possible under the increasingly strict conditions.
Everybody has shown exceptional dedication! Currently, we still have all we need – we shall see how that develops over time.

Make sure you observe the rules on hygiene, distancing, and staying home! This is the only way we can make it through this pandemic.” 


 

  

Volker Schmidt, Manager – BioTropic Costa Rica/Dom. Rep. office 
“I’m currently stuck in Costa Rica, there are no flights available. All supplier visits to Peru or Ecuador are no longer possible. Almost all countries, except Costa Rica, are under lockdown at night. Movements are also restricted during the day. Food deliveries are permitted to continue. Initial speculations can be seen in relation to staple foods, such as rice and oil. Otherwise, everything is available – you just have to be able to pay for it. For these countries, their main source of foreign currency, the tourism industry, is now gone. The people who work in that industry are now out of work. They are now on the streets, and such circumstances in these countries always a results in a surge in criminal activity.

Personally, I am mainly working from home and I make a short drive each day to run errands. Accessing the server requires a stable and robust connection. This had already been difficult here before, but now the internet is even slower.

There is a lack of employees in the fields and for packaging. People are staying home. The flow of goods is reduced. Obviously, the lack of workers is also affecting our ability to acquire new spaces. Closed borders inhibits economic migration – Nicaraguans, Haitians, Venezuelans, none of them can enter or leave the country any more. Another problem is the customs paperwork, there is a backlog forming.” 


 

Pernille Krøyer Dynesen, Manager – BioTropic Spain office 
“For the last week and a half, Spain has been under “total lockdown”, which means that even walks and being outside are prohibited. The lockdown is being enforced very strictly and is being taken very seriously. However, without this, it seems that the spread of the virus cannot be stopped. Schoolchildren are attending classes online, receiving homework, and keeping busy. You can go to the supermarket once a week, but other than that, everybody is actually staying home. It’s difficult, but the situation is also inspiring creativity.

All of our employees are working from home, which is going smoothly so far. We do not have our own warehouse that needs to be inspected, which is why there are also no problems in this respect. We communicate on the phone and we have a daily meeting on Facetime. Incoming calls are redirected to the individual employees. It is therefore possible for us to work effectively, but we are missing the everyday communication that comes with working at the office together.

The flow of goods is still running smoothly, albeit with delays. Many of the products are transported via France, where there are delays due to the 8 p.m. curfew. It is functioning surprisingly well, despite the current circumstances. Generally, the orders received in recent weeks have exceeded our stock of products, which means that we have had to slightly reduce the quantities we supply. Currently, things are starting to normalise.
There are still some problems with employees: They are no longer allowed to travel by car in fives in the field or they are staying home voluntarily. Those working on the product lines in packaging and sorting are no longer permitted to stand as close together as they used to, which slows all of the processes.

We can be glad that we are working in the food sector. Other industries are experiencing major problems, even the prospect of bankruptcy. We saw it happen in Italy – things may take longer and the prices may rise, but there will be food!”


 


Kuemkwong Siemefo, Manager – BioTropic Ivory Coast office
“By now, the virus has reached many countries in Africa – including the Ivory Coast. The measures in place here are similar to those in most EU countries, although they are being taken less seriously or are not enforced as strictly. Depending on the country, the lockdown measures may be more or less strict.

Our employees are working from home. However, it is not really possible to work from home effectively. Above all, we don’t have an internet connection. In his recent speech that was broadcast to the nation, the President of the Ivory Coast introduced significantly stricter export restrictions – the logistics industry has been most strongly affected by this. In the coming days, we will see how this impacts our export activities.”


 


Sascha Suler, Manager – BioTropic Germany office
“Stricter lockdown measures have also been in place here since Sunday. Like in the Netherlands, we are supposed to avoid contact with other people and work from home where possible. We are permitted to leave the house, but only alone or with our closest family members. The most important message: Keep your distance and wash your hands! Most businesses are closed, except supermarkets, pharmacies, and other shops that are essential to survival.

Despite the wave of panic buying, everything is still available at supermarkets – apart from toilet paper. It has become something of a running gag in Germany. Conventional supermarkets are experiencing problems in restocking some products, for example, flour, pasta, non-perishable baked goods and olive oil are often completely sold out. Fresh yeast (and by now, also dry yeast) has been completely unavailable for several weeks now.
In contrast, most of the more expensive organic products are still available, including at our own Pro Biomarkt organic stores, where we are experiencing increased instances of sold-out products, but all of them still have some products available.

Sascha and Ben are still at the office – David, Vivien and Kuemkwong are working from home. So far, working from home has been successful and effective.

All goods from overseas have still been available – bananas are being shipped to Germany in the usual quantities and can still be ripened and supplied to customers. As Volker wrote earlier, there have been delays in submitting paperwork, however this is not a critical problem – things are still running despite the circumstances. The increased order quantities we are currently experiencing are leading to some products being sold out, including turmeric, for example, because the products we planned to supply are already completely out of stock.

We would like to applaud all of the people who are currently showing extraordinary dedication: warehouse staff, drivers, sales staff, suppliers, and all people involved in these processes are currently doing a lot of extra work with maximum motivation. Without them, the current times would be even more difficult than they already are.

What can we do as individuals? Follow the rules and stay healthy!”

 

Text: BioTropic GmbH
Image: BioTropic GmbH
Last updated: March 2020

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