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Have Lemons? Make Lemonade!

lemonade in glass
Credit: iStock/Oksana Fedorchuk

The world economy went into a tailspin in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to face a new normal. From changes in the marketplace to shortages of materials and supply chain disruptions, manufacturing companies had to navigate hairpin turns. Some companies watched their primary source of income dry up overnight and found new business just to stay open. Other manufacturers stepped up to help the world battle COVID-19.

Amazing stories of manufacturer resilience is inspiration for us all. Here are two of the many manufacturers that faced the pandemic’s challenges head on – creating new paths and sustainable opportunities for themselves over the past several years.

Have milk? Make cheese!

Like many small and medium-sized manufacturers, the beginning of the pandemic caused Sweetgrass Dairy, a third-generation family business in Georgia, to rethink the way it did business. Before the pandemic, most of its distribution network was tied to food service. In March 2020, when the restaurant and hospitality industry began to struggle, Sweetgrass lost nearly 80% of its sales. Retail options for its specialty cheeses also dwindled when the supply chain priority became staples like toilet paper.

Sweetgrass Dairy had to find a new way of operating and new sources of income. It realized that consumers still wanted specialty products they couldn’t buy at now-closed retail locations. Sweetgrass saw the opportunity this presented to offer products for direct sale to customers – but it realized it’d need help.

Since Sweetgrass had worked with Georgia MEP as part of a food safety cohort and knew its capabilities, Sweetgrass reached out for help to swiftly upgrade its e-commerce platform. Georgia MEP helped it through the e-commerce process, and also with changes related to producing, packaging and marketing smaller quantities.

This allowed Sweetgrass Dairy not only to sustain, but to grow its business in an entirely new direction. It added a sustainable new customer segment through direct sales to consumers. Direct sales remain strong while its restaurant segment returns to pre-pandemic levels.

As a result, Sweetgrass Dairy experienced success at a time when many similar companies did not. The new e-commerce platform made it easy for customers to continue to support their local family farm and obtain quality dairy products. Thanks to the forward thinking of Sweetgrass Dairy and with Georgia MEP’s assistance, not only were the customers happy, but this food manufacturer has seen phenomenal business growth.

Have plastic? Make face shields!

At the onset of the pandemic, Brightview Technologies joined the nation in watching the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) dwindle. Many companies searched for ways to help. Even though the company specialized in visual intelligence and sensing technology, Brightview’s location near North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park meant familiarity with the medical industry and standards for PPE production.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a Brightview engineer called the company’s CEO with an idea. The company had on hand raw materials needed to produce plastic face shields, giving the company a unique opportunity to help support front-line medical workers. Moving quickly, Brightview had a product design within days, but found itself lacking one key material. The company reached out to the North Carolina MEP Center (NCMEP) for help sourcing this missing material. With NCMEP’s help, Brightview had a prototype completed quickly and an order for plastic face shields from the state of North Carolina two days later.

For the next six months, Brightview pivoted about 75% of its manufacturing production staff to supplying PPE and shipping more than two million face shields. This crucially kept its staff working during a slowdown in Brightview’s core business. It also came up with an innovative approach to support individuals working from home. Raw material kits were distributed to 30 independent contractors for home assembly. Each contractor assembled 250 face shields at home, which were then brought back to Brightview for inspection, packing and shipping.

In a short time, Brightview developed a new product line and trained its employees to do the new tasks. Its newfound agility has helped it view opportunities differently, supporting efforts to evolve its core business.

Have challenges? Make a call to your local MEP Center!

Many manufacturers have benefited from diversification and forward thinking since the pandemic. As the Georgia and North Carolina MEP Centers supported Sweetgrass Dairy and Brightview Technologies with their long and short-term goals, your local MEP Center is ready and willing to help you achieve your full potential. If you’re interested in learning more, contact your local MEP Center.

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