Across America, businesses of all sizes and types are responding successfully to the COVID-19 pandemic. Include some of Minnesota's largest food and agricultural companies on the list.

"How quickly we found we could make adjustments. Not that it wasn't painful or challenging along the way, but we found we could make adjustments when we needed to do it," said Rod Hebrink, CEO of Compeer Financial, a cooperative that provides financial services to ag clients in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Hebrink was among the speakers at a Nov. 5 webinar on agri-food resiliency during the Virtual 2020 Minnesota Ag and Food Summit. The online presentation, available to the news media, was hosted by the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan member organization representing the agriculture and food industry.

The session on agri-food resiliency was led by MBOLD, a recently announced coalition of major food and ag companies and research organizations in Minnesota that seeks to "lead the way to the future of food," according to promotional material for the group.

Members include Cargill, General Mills, Target and the University of Minnesota.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

MBOLD is an initiative of the Greater MSP, the economic development partnership for the 15-country Minneapolis-St. Paul region.

Other speakers at the agri-food resiliency webinar were Doug Baker, CEO of Ecolab; Heather Anfang, senior vice president of dairy foods at Land O'Lakes; and Stacey Fowler, vice president of research and development for Schwan's Co.

Minnesota-based Schwan's sees demand increase during pandemic

Fowler said her company took seriously its mission to continue to manufacture food and deliver it to families.

Schwan's "reevaluated everything it did," without losing a single production day because of the pandemic, he said.

It won't be back to business as usual after the pandemic ends, she said.

"Many consumer food attitudes and behaviors will be permanently changed as a result of the pandemic," she said. One example: More individually wrapped food products will be needed.

Baker, who said his company's biggest business is food safety, pointed to the importance of preparation. His company invested heavily in recent years to connect its customers digitally and, "If anything, we wish we would have done more," he said.

"There's a lot of debate over what we're going to learn from COVID, what's its lasting impact," he said. "Personally, I think, mostly what it will do is accelerate trends that were already in place. Trends around remote capability, trends around digitization of industrial practices."

The digital environment looms

Anfang said it's beneficial to step back and look at how much has changed in the past year, changes that weren't expected or predicted at the time.

Now, "There's a lot of learning to be had," she said. For example, "The days of traveling two days for a two-hour meeting are probably behind us. We have become much more efficient in how we think about conducting business."

Already her company has learned to do much more in "the virtual environment," including virtual research and development trials and virtual audits, Anfang said.

To learn more about MBOLD visit https://www.mbold.org.