Tippin’s Gourmet Pies is known for indulgent bakery items that make people feel good.
However, even those amazing pies would have been challenged to lift the moods of company leaders and employees when the coronavirus crisis first hit.
The pandemic created great distress for Tippin’s, as it did for so many other companies. It led to quick changes in work and safety practices and upended product sales.
The crisis also required new kinds of employee and customer communications. Tippin’s leaders had to improvise in real time to communicate important information and keep everyone safe.
“We told our team members that we were learning as quickly as they were, and that we would keep them updated,” said Jim Antrup, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Antrup described these efforts on ABA’s podcast, Bake to the Future. He was interviewed by Katie Juhl, ABA’s Director of Communications and Marketing, and Hailey Blumenreich, Marketing and Communications Coordinator.
Pandemic Transforms Business Landscape
Tippin’s, based in Kansas City, Kansas, is known for its premium pies and a variety of other baked goods sold to grocery stores around the country. It also sells pies online for home delivery, and produces other items including soups and sauces.
The pandemic challenged much of the company’s business, including its limited amount of non-supermarket foodservice sales, which virtually disappeared during this period. However, even its food retail business faced hurdles. The shutting down of self-service sections in food stores hurt Tippin’s croissant and soups business, for example. Meanwhile, some of Tippin’s other baked goods products appear to have been negatively impacted by a surge in home baking during this pandemic.
Boosting Employee Communications
Sales trends, however, were not the first priority for Tippin’s. Leaders needed to focus on urgent developments early in this crisis. In particular, they needed to move quickly to boost employee communications and safety.
“When we went into lockdown in the metro Kansas City area, we held a town hall with our team members,” Antrup said. “We expressed to them how important what they’re doing is, and that we’re part of the critical infrastructure.”
Many meetings followed that first one, as the company accelerated communications to some 60 team members working in its manufacturing facility. The pace and style of communications had to adjust to new pandemic needs. Multiple meetings with smaller groups replaced one big meeting, to allow for social distancing. More time was allotted for safety information, along with questions and answers. Written communications were shared alongside meetings. All information, both spoken and written, was relayed in both English and Spanish, to accommodate the diverse nature of the workforce.
Keeping Up With Changing Information
One of the hardest parts of communications was keeping up with the daily dose of changing information coming from government, media and other sources.
Resources and information from ABA, among other sources, was extremely helpful in making decisions on what to prioritize, Antrup said.
“One of the biggest lessons for us is to use the resources that are available to us. Over the past 30 days we’ve looked at every one of those ABA daily updates,” in addition to the webinars and other resources the association is providing, he said.
“We want to make sure we're not missing anything from a regulatory standpoint, such as from the CDC,” he said.
Being Proactive on Customer Communications
The pandemic has transformed the normal cycle of customer relationships, he noted. Face-to-face meetings have been replaced by virtual ones. Samples need to be sent rather than shared in person. Distribution hurdles must be addressed in real time.
Moreover, planning for the near future is harder than ever, such as for the coming fall/holiday buying cycle.
“We're concerned about that because we just don't know what's going to happen next week, next month, next quarter,” he said.
Nevertheless, Tippin’s is addressing the hurdles by staying highly engaged with customers, he emphasized.
Doing Right by Employees and Communities
In the midst of all the confusion, Tippin’s has maintained a focus on what’s really important. For example, after foodservice outlets shut down, Tippin’s donated excess fresh product to community food banks and team members to battle hunger and avoid waste.
Meanwhile, despite challenges to the business, it has managed to avoid team member cutbacks by flexibly shifting people between different parts of its business. A new bakery facility, opened just a few months ago, is adjoined to the company’s kitchen operations, bringing all businesses under one roof. This physical proximity has enabled improved employee cross-training and shifting of tasks.
Even small gestures have made employees feel more appreciated. As local and national retail shortages emerged in items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, Tippin’s had access to some products because its parent company also owns food stores. So it was able to distribute certain items to employees for their home use.
“Our team members were very appreciative of that,” Antrup said.
More Bake to the Future
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Bake to the Future has been featuring in-depth conversations about the impact on the baking sector from industry leaders and the most up-to-date information from our experts at ABA.
- Listen to and read about Episode #7 with Cyrille Filott about consumer behavior during and after this crisis.
- Listen to and read about Episode #8 with Bill Paterakis about leading a baking company during this crisis.
- Listen to and read about Episode #9 with Paula Marshall about leading when the unexpected happens.