David Hill, managing director of premium chocolate exporter Cocoda Ltd, told ConfectioneryNews: “The situation, as it is as of right now, is changing every hour or so, what we are being told right now could be old news before the end of the day.”
Online retailers such as Amazon are only ordering staples and no gift food such as boxed chocolates, while upmarket outlet Selfridges has shut all its UK stores until further notice.
With many staff self-isolating, production capabilities could also be compromised during the lockdown.
Caitlin Horner, PR and social media manager at London-based Divine Chocolate, said its office has closed and staff are now working from home to avoid travel on buses and the underground.
Our primary supplier is actively monitoring the situation and is reassessing risks on a daily basis -- Caitlin Horner, Divine Chocolate
“What we have started to do is video call each other, we think it's important to still get as much facetime (even though it's virtual) as it keeps morale up and it's nice to be able to check in with each other,” she said.
Horner said Divine is not currently experiencing any disruption to its operations as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and holds several weeks’ stock in the UK to mitigate against any delays in production or at ports.
“Our primary supplier is actively monitoring the situation and is reassessing risks on a daily basis. Immediate actions taken have included postponing external meetings and visits,” she said. “We continue to monitor the advice from Public Health England, and will update our response accordingly.”
In the United States, the coronavirus has led The Hershey Company to temporarily close its Chocolate World locations in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and Times Square, New York City. The shutdown, which is scheduled to last for two weeks, took effect from the closing time on March 15.
Though Hershey has not witnessed any confirmed coronavirus case among its workers, the company said it made the decision as part of its precautionary and safety measures. Its Chocolate World locations will continue to operate in Niagara, Canada and Las Vegas, at the time of writing.
Hershey management told Yahoo Finance it did not talk about any impact of the aforementioned closure on its financial performance.
A number of confectionery events in the US have been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including Western Candy Conference, interpack and PMCA, while others including Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago are still going ahead, at time of writing, as planned.
National Confectioners Association president & CEO John Downs has praised the leadership of governor Thomas Wolf (Pennsylvania) and governor Mike DeWine (Ohio) for their stance embracing food manufacturing as an essential service for their constituents.
“Pennsylvania and Ohio are home to nearly 80,000 jobs supported by chocolate and candy manufacturing. For every one job that our industry creates in confectionery manufacturing, another 10 jobs are supported in related fields like transportation, retail and more,” said Downs.
“The food supply is part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, and at times like these, our industry’s contribution to the food manufacturing sector should not be overlooked. We strongly encourage all governors, mayors and other government officials to follow the examples set by governor Wolf and governor DeWine and make it clear that food manufacturing is an essential service in these uncertain times.”
Duty free confectionery sales have also been hit due to international travel bans imposed by governments and limited airline services that has led to reduced passenger numbers.
In Europe, the European Cocoa Association, headquartered in Brussels, has announced it has closed its office with staff being advised to work remotely from home.
The European Commission has announced it has launched an advisory panel on COVID-19 composed of epidemiologists and virologists from different Member States to formulate EU guidelines on science-based and coordinated risk management measures.
The panel will be chaired by the Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and co-chaired by Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for Health and Food Safety.
Von der Leyen said: "The coronavirus is rapidly changing our lives and societies. All governments have to take well-informed and appropriate decisions for the people of Europe every day. That is why scientific expertise and good advice is now more valuable than ever. I am very grateful to all the high-profile experts on the panel for putting their knowledge at the service of the community."