How Perfection Fresh has been responding to pandemic changes
As businesses plan next steps in the wake of COVID-19, one of Australia’s largest fresh produce companies is preparing to gradually bring its workforce back into the office.
Perfection Fresh Australia has been vigilant about its responsibility to its employees as well as consumers during COVID-19.
CEO Michael Simonetta said: “At Perfection, our people are core to who we are and what we do. So, the alarm bells rang for us very early when COVID-19 started to emerge in the media in January.
“From the beginning, we knew this was a game-changer. Call it instinct or long experience – but the senior leadership team quickly moved into action and set up measures to protect our people and our customers.”
Although Perfection is identified as a provider of essential services, Mr Simonetta described COVID-19 as the single most disruptive event in his memory, and as such, presented major challenges but equally opportunities to measure the company’s adaptability and approach to crisis management. The family owned company, set up by Mr Simonetta’s father, turned 40 last year. Mr Simonetta has led the company for 29 years.
Perfection Fresh has a multi-faceted and diverse workforce across Australia – operating from fresh fruit and vegetable markets, glasshouses, farms, production, and offices – with a wide range of languages.
“Our approach had to factor in every aspect of our business,” Mr Simonetta says.
“The first steps we took involved cancelling international travel and tightly limiting domestic travel before deciding it would be prudent to cease our travel altogether – in advance of the government restrictions.
“We also put in place very strict guidelines for visitors and ordered additional stocks of disinfectant and other cleaning materials. We set up an internal crisis team of senior leaders, meeting daily, to set the course for the business, including preparing a business continuity plan specific to COVID-19.
“While we were preparing to keep our people protected, we also knew it was critical to keep them up-to-date. We built a dedicated portal on our intranet to deliver information across the business, used internal TV screens to deliver messaging, and sent out a daily CEO communique which was shared with everyone across the business. This covered internal updates like new COVID-19 related processes, information about symptoms and the process for anyone who was unwell, reminders about our very strict hygiene requirements, as well as a summary of what was happening in Australia and across the world.
“We also took advantage of running an internal campaign to encourage employees to update their emergency contact details, which we tested company-wide with an SMS messaging function.
“We also pushed our flu vaccination program harder than usual to keep people protected.”
The company locked down employee movements between locations and even between areas on sites to avoid cross-contamination.
The company started to enforce remote working for office-based employees from March, and more widely utilised technology like Teams to ensure people remained connected.
As well as its own employees, Mr Simonetta said the business closely engaged its labour hire suppliers to ensure their processes matched Perfection’s and provided support materials to those workers on-site make sure information was consistent.
He said, “This process didn’t involve significant cost – it was clever allocation of internal resources, including utilising existing skills, and leveraging official resources including the Department of Health’s fact sheets in different languages, videos, and flyers, making these available to our own employees, as well as labour hire workers.”
At the same time, the company found one part of its business in a downturn – pre-prepared fresh produce like snack packs – due to a drop in demand. Instead of standing people down, management made the decision to redirect those employees into a different part of the business.
And the results are telling. Perfection is currently running an employee survey and included a series of questions to check-in on their handling of COVID-19. Preliminary results show extremely high approval. More than 90% agree or strongly agree that they’ve been kept up to date with COVID-19 information, understand their responsibilities to keep safe, and they’ve been provided with tools like remote working and temperature checks.
Employee comments include: “Incredible foresight dealing with the challenge. Great planning and strategy, [the CEO] communications were really helpful and provided me and the family additional security.”
“It was a very pleasant surprise to have senior authority regularly touching base and keeping us all informed company-wide on both the external and internal implications and ramifications of the pandemic. Most brilliant and very much appreciated.”
Mr Simonetta said the far-reaching and devastating nature of COVID-19, including extensive job losses, has meant that people are very aware of how lucky they are to be working in an essential services business.
“We’re currently preparing to bring office workers back into the business. This involves careful scheduling within teams to ensure we adhere to social distancing requirements. It’ll be a challenge, but I think people can’t wait to get back to work and connect with each other,” he said.