Food and supplement firms aid COVID-19 relief efforts

From protective gear to food and money, food and supplement companies are providing relief during this health and economic crisis.

Steve Myers, Senior Editor

April 2, 2020

15 Min Read
Editorial Use only -Houston Foodbank by michelmond /
michelmond /

In these times that try wo/men’s souls, helpers shine. Companies across the natural products industry have shown support for their communities, especially healthcare workers on the front line of this COVID-19 crisis, by donating gear, money, food and other products to those in need.

“We have an opportunity and an obligation to help,” stated Scott Chen, president of Jiaherb, citing the growing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in medical facilities.

“After learning how our local and national healthcare workers are in jeopardy due to shortages of personal protective equipment, we put our own rapid supply chain capability to work on their behalf,” explained Chris Oesterheld, vice president of Jiaherb, in a press release.

The Pine Brook, New Jersey, botanical ingredient supplier has provided more than 20,000 pieces of PPE (e.g. surgical masks and coveralls) to community healthcare providers, including Morristown Medical Center, part of Atlantic Health System in Morristown, New Jersey; Orange County Medical Center, part of Kaiser Permanente in Anaheim, California; and Levine Children's Hospital, part of Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina.

PPE, especially the coveted N95 face masks, has been front and center of the struggle to keep medical staff safe while treating exponentially escalating numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Dietary supplement maker Paragon Laboratories is donating its own supply of 3,600 such masks to local hospitals in its Southern California community. The Torrance-based firm noted N95 respirators are more advanced than the standard surgical face masks because they can form a tight enough seal to filter out at least 95% of particles in the air.

“We want to support the health and safety of our healthcare community who are risking their lives as they continue to combat the virus,” said Jay Kaufman, CEO of Paragon Laboratories, in a statement. “We recognize and appreciate all of their efforts and are continuing to work with area hospitals to see where we can offer our additional support.”

Spring Hill, Tennessee, sports nutrition contract manufacturer Armada Nutrition used its connections to secure 5,000 N95 masks, which it earmarked for delivery to its local Williamson Medical Center in Franklin.

Other industry companies also have used resources and connections to source masks for local medical professionals.

“At Nutrabolt we're doing everything we can to protect and support our healthcare workers amid the spread of #covid19,” the sports nutrition brand said, via LinkedIn. “To that end, we've located an overseas supplier of essential N95 face masks.”

The Austin, Texas, company urged its followers to donate to its local partner The GiveJoy Foundation to help get 200,000 masks to healthcare workers throughout the state. It tagged the effort #GetMasksGiveHope and promised to match donations one-for-one.

‘From the bottom of our hearts’

Many citizens and companies are stepping up to support those working long hours with increased risk of infection.

“We want to help where we can, and there’s no doubt that first responders to the pandemic are going to need energy and focus for long, difficult shifts,” said Ben Koren, co-CEO and co-founder of GO BIG Energy, in Brooklyn, New York. “We recently announced [on Instagram] that we will be donating 10,000 energy shots to hospitals to help healthcare workers.”

Energy beverage brands have been helping fuel the frontline by donating energy drinks to local healthcare providers.

Bang drove around its South Florida community to deliver energy drinks and gratitude to “heroes” in medical facilities such as Mount Sanai Medical Center in Miami.

“Follow the #BangFamily as we take a trip over to Mount Sinai Medical Center to make a special and SAFE drop off in hopes of powering up the real heroes in these times of need,” Bang said, in a video post on Instagram.

Gratitude and energy were apparent across South Florida.

Sports nutrition brand Redcon1 has donated more than 20,000 protein bar products (MRE BAR and B.A.R. Breakfast at the Ready®) to local healthcare, food access and first responder organizations in the company’s local South Florida community, including Boca Helping Hands, Boca Raton Police Department, Delray Beach Police Department, Delray Beach Fire Department and the Delray Medical Center (Instagram image).

“Giving is part of the brand, and in these tough times we especially appreciate our first responders and hospital staff,” said Aaron Singerman, CEO of Redcon1, via email. He stressed donating to first responders is always important. “At Redcon1, we donate monthly to military charities, and we recently started the Redcon1 foundation, to support military families.”

He also said Redcon1’s COVID-related local donations will continue. The company is prepared to fulfill requests from the Delray Medical for additional bars for its more than 1,000 staff members. Redcon1 is also seeking out other hospitals, police, and first responders that are in need.

Florida-based energy drink maker Celsius also donated product to first responders.

“THANK YOU to all of the Healthcare workers, Firefighters, Policemen, and everyone else working on the front line and around the clock to keep our communities as safe as possible right now,” Boca Raton, the company said, via LinkedIn. “We are so appreciative of everything you do! We will be continuing to support you as much as we can by supplying you with a little extra energy to get you through these long days. We know it’s not much, but we want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts.”

Every little bit helps. This is the motto of businesses small and large that are rising to the challenge despite facing their own financial hardships during this crisis.

Beverage brand Reed’s took a creative approach to both the cancellations of major industry events and the need for relief in the local community. The Southern California ginger product maker converted its consumer sampling truck into a delivery truck and launched a plan for “The Green Machine” to visit local hospitals, fire stations and medical centers in the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego County areas to donate the extra product it was planning on bringing to Expo West (including its Wellness Shot) to medical professionals and first responders.

“We were all thinking what we could do to help within the current environment, and our sampling team, the Green Machine, called and asked where to go next,” explained Norman Snyder Jr., Reed’s CEO, via email. “They were full of product and ready to move, but they had no place to go as a result of the recent closures and social distancing.” He said it was a real “eureka” moment, as it became apparent the best solution was to donate product to first responders and others working on the front lines fighting the virus. Snyder summed up the consensus of his team: “These folks need a break from the fight, a big thank you, so let’s provide them with products that they can enjoy that are also healthy.”

Small business owner Billy Bosch, CEO and founder of ICONIC Protein, was determined to continue the company’s tradition of giving back to its Santa Monica, California area community even during these difficult times. The company donated 1,000 pounds of protein (10,000 servings of powdered and ready-to-drink product) to local food banks (Instagram video), sent 200 servings to a hospital in Idaho and made donations to local healthcare providers.

Bosch said, via email, his team felt it was important to start in its own backyard and support the community that welcomed ICONIC as a brand.

“We are proud to be a Santa Monica company, so it was an obvious place to start when we heard there was a need for food,” said Emily Stubler, director of marketing for ICONIC, noting the company has supported healthcare workers around the country. “We want to make sure that we help to keep our frontline defense team (healthcare workers) healthy and fueled. Our belief is that quality food and nutrition is one of the best ways to keep you strong and healthy. Without proper fuel, it's tough to be at your best. It is critical that other natural foods brands do the same so that we can band together in this challenge and get and keep our healthcare teams sharp!”

Relief for many populations in need

Large food companies have joined the movement to support and nourish healthcare workers and populations hit hardest by the economic fallout associated with COVID-19.

Recognizing food and beverages help keep people healthy and enhance their quality of life, Nestlé sprung into action out of a responsibility to provide good nutrition, especially for the most vulnerable in society, including children, the elderly and those struggling with illness. The Switzerland-based food giant has led substantial local relief efforts in the communities around the globe by supporting charities, medical institutions and other organizations in the frontline of the fight against this pandemic.

In a press release, Nestlé said it has worked very closely with physicians to develop new tailored COVID-19 medical nutrition and supplement treatment protocols, and it has also donated to food banks and food delivery organizations to support people in need. It has partnered with fellow Switzerland-rooted International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to provide food, medical nutrition products and bottled water to those most affected by the crisis. The company also pledged to donate 10 million Swiss Francs (~US$10.3 million) and match (1:1) donations to the Red Cross made by Nestlé employees.

Chicken of the Sea has donated more than half a million servings of canned tuna, salmon and other protein-packed products to hunger relief organizations, including Convoy of Hope, which serves families across the country; Second Harvest Food Bank in Savannah, Georgia; and the South Bay Union School District in Southern California.

"At Chicken of the Sea, we believe that nobody should ever have to miss a meal, and our long-standing sustainability commitment involves supporting the communities in which we live and work," said Craig Rexroad, communications director of North America, via press release. "Now more than ever, these groups need the crucial protein our products are able to provide."

In outlining its COVID-19 actions, Conagra acknowledged foods important role in this pandemic, as many shoppers face empty grocery shelves in certain aisles. In addition to running its operations at full capacity, the Chicago-based parent of food brands like Gardein, Healthy Choice and Earth Balance ramped up its usual hunger relief efforts with national partners such as Feeding America, which distributes products to 200 food banks across the U.S. Conagra had already donated the equivalent of more than 16 million meals through this network since the beginning of 2020, and it added an additional 2.1 million meals between March 17 and 26.

In its posted COVID-19 statement, Conagra noted it recently launched local food drives at its Chicago and Omaha offices that have rescued 3,860 pounds of food for immediate availability through hunger relief agency Lakeview Pantry, Chicago, and 22 pallets of food for Food Bank for the Heartland, Omaha. In addition to food, the company secured cash contributions totaling more than $1.75 million for donation to its food bank partners.

Tyson Foods also assured it has taken steps to meet the ongoing demand for food products, and it joined other large and small food companies donating product and cash. The Fayetteville, Arkansas, poultry-based brand has donated about four million pounds, or 16 million meals, to its team members, Feeding America food banks, local community pantries and other hunger relief agencies. In total, Tyson has committed to $13 million in relief donations, including $11 million in product and $2 million in grants for the local community.

Dairy and plant-based product maker Danone North America committed $1.2 million to food access organizations near its two corporate locations in White Plains, New York, and Broomfield, Colorado, as well as 12 U.S. communities where it makes Danone products, including California, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia. The company will also donate $300,000 worth of products.

Pepsico and the Pepsi Foundation launched a more than $45 million initiative focused on helping people and communities most affected by this devastating virus. This includes donations of protective gear for healthcare workers, testing and screening services and more than 50 million nutritious meals to at-risk populations via food banks and other partners around the world. The company also paired its distribution capabilities with key partners to increase access to nutrition for the billions of young students who are out of school, a key source of nutrition.  

PepsiCo noted $15.8 million of the total relief is designated for North America, which has the most COVID-19 cases, and is slated for out-of-school kids who would normally receive low- or no-cost meals there, as well as for PPE for healthcare workers, testing and screening services, and support for U.S. restaurant workers experiencing joblessness.

The program will also spend $7.7 million in Europe, especially hard-hit areas like France, Italy, and Spain, where it will fund local health and relief programs. The rest of the funds will be divided between Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and China.

"This unprecedented crisis requires all hands on deck, and companies have a big role to play in directing critical resources to the most vulnerable," said Ramon Laguarta, Chairman & CEO PepsiCo, in a press release. "Food is at the heart of what PepsiCo does, and we believe the best way we can support communities during this difficult time is by leveraging our expertise and capabilities, along with help from our partners, to bring food to our neighbors who need it most. We're activating our global resources to do this now and provide other essential relief, and we will continue to do so as the world unites to tackle COVID-19."

Another struggling population is severe kidney disease patients, particularly those receiving dialysis, who face numerous challenges during this pandemic, including higher risk of infection, noted manufacturer Vidafuel Nutrition. The New York City-based maker of dietician-developed nutrition products created a dialysis patient support program to provide its Wellness Protein drink, free of charge, to patients who are most at risk and in need of optimal nutrition. In its press release, the company noted dialysis patients are wary about going to grocery stores right now, and shelf-stable, kidney-friendly protein is in short supply.

Elderly people have also faced challenges getting to the stores during this pandemic, and the virus has been especially devastating to this age group.

IWON organics has donated up to 250 free cases of snacks shipped to elderly who could not get to stores. The Corte Madera, California, snack brand also posted a case-for-case match promise on its website, pledging to ship a free case of snacks to those in need for every case purchased via the site. IWON has also donated up to 300 bags of snacks in connection with Pod Foods, a New York City initiative, as well as around 500 bags of snacks shipped to Feed the Children for an April Foods Day initiative.

“We do this because we care,” said IWON CEO and founder Mark Samuel, via email. “We are a company made up of people who believe in supporting others, before anything else. Being that we are a healthy, better for you snack brand, we are built on the foundation of being good, being good people—helping people live better lives through proper nutrition. All else falls into place once you have ‘doing good’ as your foundation.”

Spiritual, mental support

The COVID-19 toll is not only epidemiological but also psychological, according to the American Psychological Association. The organization offered insights from its members on the potential mental and emotional impacts as well as the need for support and relief.

“It’s important that we start recognizing that we’re in the middle of this collective grief,” said Sherry Cormier, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in grief and grief mentoring, in an APA post.  “We are all losing something now.”

APA and Cormier noted while many people are facing health and economic losses, even those not facing such concrete consequences are still affected by communal grief over struggling healthcare, education and economic systems.

“The losses include our sense of predictability, control, justice, and the belief that we can protect our children or elderly loved ones,” said Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D., director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Memphis, in the APA blog. “Those are among the losses that can be addressed by mental health professionals.”

To help everyone get through these stressful times, the new wellness/skincare company For The Biome is offering weekly live group meditations online for free.

“As so many of us shelter at home, there has been a surge of interest in meditation for cultivating self-compassion, kindness and equanimity when we need them the most,” noted co-founder Barbi Schulick, who also co-founded New Chapter brand vitamins with her husband Paul. “And meditation is remarkably compatible with our daily skincare routine—nourishing the entire microbiome inside and out—including the microbiome of the skin. The skin is the mirror of our well-being, so meditation—especially during these stressful times—can be our skin’s ally.”

About the Author(s)

Steve Myers

Senior Editor

Steve Myers is a graduate of the English program at Arizona State University. He first entered the natural products industry and Virgo Publishing in 1997, right out of college, but escaped the searing Arizona heat by relocating to the East Coast. He left Informa Markets in 2022, after a formidable career focused on financial, regulatory and quality control issues, in addition to writing stories ranging research results to manufacturing. In his final years with the company, he spearheaded the editorial direction of Natural Products Insider.

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