BY MORGAN LEGEL
As Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero continues to allow more businesses to open up following the declaration of PCOR 2, the island is slowly starting to recover economically.
While some businesses, like beverage wholesalers, have been doing continuous — but reduced — business, the coming switch to more restaurants and stores opening is making a change in business plans.
Edward J. Calvo, general manager of Island Beverage Distributors as well as Island Wines and Spirits, and assistant general manager of Mid Pacific Distributors Inc., said island wholesalers are in a never-before-seen gripping situation.
“We are definitely down (in sales) but it’s an interesting time because the entire industry is down with us,” he said. “Obviously, the nature of our business, and a lot of our competitors, is tied into the tourism industry, and a lot of that all being closed at the same time. It affects us all. It’s been tough for us losing so much customer base in such a short amount of time, and we’ve just been focused on where there are customers seeking products.”
Jose Fernandez, Guam sales manager for Coca-Cola Beverage Co. and Foremost Foods, Inc., said sales are down, but slowly starting to “balance” out.
“With consideration to what we’re going through right now, [business] is still holding on,” he said. “Of course, we did take a big dip in the restaurant industry, about 30%. But with the markets, [business has] held its own. We thought we were going to take a much bigger hit in the beverage industry. But, once [the government] started doing lockdowns, with the sporadic buying in the beginning, there was an up-kick in the market. Then, it slowly started to balance itself out. Overall, it has been sustainable.”
The U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt has been docked on U.S. Naval Base Guam since late March, with sailors being quarantined both on base and at island hotels. Fernandez said that while the Navy Exchange and Orote Commissary have not increased orders, there has been “a higher volume of orders from the ships through DLA.” DLA is the Defense Logistics Agency, contracted to support military fleet. Those orders are for beverages, “functional beverages,” like Powerade, orange juice and cartons for fountain drinks, Fernandez said.
At the beginning of the outbreak, Calvo told the Journal, “We quickly adjusted our orders to reflect the lower sales, but everything we needed to come in has come in, and we work with our logistic partners to continue that momentum and that operation.”
Fernandez said the situation has needed more frequent oversight. “We normally monitor our usage monthly, but we had to start taking a look at it on a weekly basis to do our projections for the future,” he said.
While MidPac has lost sales of beer tied to the draft business, it still has kegs of beer in-stock, with good expiration dates throughout the end of the year, Calvo said.
He has been using this down-time to focus on the future.
“This has been a good opportunity to prepare for the future with organization, conducting more training and just really getting ideas for how we can improve internally short-term and long-term, when the on-premise businesses start to open up again.”
Calvo said the company had just hired new employees before the outbreak, and that it spent a lot of time cross-training those employees on different positions within the company, as well as product and brand training for familiarization. He also said long-term employees were getting retrained, to make sure all employees were on the same page.
For Coke and Foremost during the outbreak, the group took advantage of getting a new Foremost product in stock and prepared to get out once everything normalizes. The company has secured a new beverage, Gold Peak Tea, which it will carry in five flavors — sweet green, sweet black, raspberry, lemon and unsweet. The orders that have been distributed are “flying out the door,” according to Fernandez.
In terms of what’s popular, Calvo noted that grocery stores have “a different feeling” as of late, and that people want to grab and go, with limited trips. With this in mind, he said, the most popular products from MidPac are currently the larger packages of beer, like cases and 30-packs.
Fernandez said the most popular Foremost items in retail sales were larger items like “family-size” ice cream tubs and gallons of orange juice.
“People like things in bulk quantity, especially when you have to stay home, so you don’t have to keep coming to the store.”
Fernandez said the COVID-19 era has brought its own challenges. “It’s a learning experience, something unprecedented. We’ve been through storms and other instances, but this was like something all on its own. Now, anything to pop up in the future will be easier to handle and gauge,” he said. mbj