Glassmaking in a pandemic

Consol, like almost every company around the world, has been affected in myriad ways by COVID-19 and the measures taken to curb its spread. Tragically, we lost friends, family and colleagues, whom we remember and miss every day.

As a business, we also managed to record some noteworthy achievements.

Early on we met with our people and agreed that we needed to find a way to keep our people safe and our plants running, balancing lives and livelihoods

Our operations teams kept our plants running amidst stringent hygiene protocols, lockdowns and curfews with the guiding principle that we should strive to make our work environment as safe as possible.

Our supply chain managed to secure and deliver necessary inputs throughout the various lockdown restrictions, which saw both local suppliers and borders close or come to a standstill.

We agreed with our people to implement salary and wage sacrifices to keep the business trading and prevent retrenchments. We are happy to report that we were able to make good on these short payments to our employees in January this year and there were no retrenchments in the South African operations. This has been key for us to be able to supply our customers when demand recovered.

We became experts on travel regulations and permits, issuing them electronically to enable our critical staff to travel to work in South Africa and support the recovery of our operations throughout Africa.

Our determination to remain at the forefront of technology and development in the industry did not falter.

  • In what was a first for Consol, we commissioned our new C1/1 furnace and our first tandem machine (click here to see it in action) with only remote support in this mammoth task from the original equipment manufacturers.
  • We undertook critical furnace maintenance in-house when it became clear that neither materials nor critical skills could travel from Europe thus extending the lives of furnaces to avoid them being closed indefinitely.
  • We executed a complex product-development process, launching several new products and delivering world-first innovations in the light-weighting of large bottle formats for a few of our major customers.

And our customers’ needs were front of mind throughout

  • COVID-19 restrictions and consumption patterns resulted in great turmoil and variability in demand forcing our customers to stop and start lines and change priorities. Our operations and planning teams navigated unprecedented colour and job-change programmes to maximise customer service and assist our customers with their recovery plans.
  • Our sales team managed to keep customers calm and their filling lines running to keep their businesses from faltering.
  • We led the way in communicating the actual impact of South Africa’s alcohol bans on secondary and tertiary industries, and the very many people who depend on them for their livelihoods, as well as the country’s industrial capacity.

COVID-19 imposed lockdowns

  • What has become even more evident during the COVID-19 imposed lockdowns is the interconnectedness of our value chain, demonstrating that the alcohol industry comprises far more than the alcohol manufacturers and retailers, and that collaboration yields greater impact.
  • We contributed to the South African alcohol industry’s purchase of PPE for frontline workers and established a fund, alongside other glass-industry stakeholders, to support glass recyclers when their livelihoods were severely compromised.

Any failure in this environment would have debilitated the food and beverage industries for months and would have caused even more economic casualties. We would not have had the stock available to take advantage of a recovery in markets when alcohol sales were reinstated. Nor would our customers have had the confidence in us to back their filling plans in glass. The reopening of alcohol sales has allowed the glass packaging industry to return to full operation for now, and it is making a slow but steady recovery. Retail sales supporting our SME customers have thankfully boomed as more people choose home consumption and small craft industries are increasingly looking to pack their products in glass. We don’t know for certain what the future holds; the pandemic will likely be with us for some time to come. But we are hopeful, and unified, and ready to face the next step in this historic challenge.

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