THE Covid-19 pandemic has made 2020 one of the most challenging years for the multi-national Swiss giant Nestlé, its UK chief executive said this week.

Nestlé employs 8,000 people in the UK and Ireland, including more than 200 at its Cereal Partners factory at Staverton near Trowbridge.

Speaking on Tuesday, Stefano Agostini said: “2020 has been a very challenging year for everybody.

“In March, our first priority was to make sure that we could continue supplying the nation with food and drink while keeping our employees safe.

“We worked very closely with our trade union partners to put in the place the right measures to keep our people safe right at the start of the lockdown.

“Our factories have been operating with strict hygiene and social distancing measures ever since and we are proud that we have been able to continue our manufacturing and distribution throughout the period.

“This is thanks to the hard work of our people at all of our factories and distribution centres across the UK and Ireland.”

Mr Agostini said Nestlé had made hygiene and safety changes to the Staverton factory to safeguard its employees from the Covid-19 coronavirus.

"We are sharing best practice and learning and there has been more washing and a greater emphasis on hygiene," he said.

Nestlé had also been able to support the national response to the coronavirus crisis.

“We contributed to the food packages created for 1.5 million vulnerable people identified by the UK government and we have supported the British and Irish Red Cross with £250,000 of funding.

"We donated more than £4 million of products to foodbanks and key workers through the peak of the crisis to help support those who needed it.

"That first response to the crisis was very important but what we do next might be even more important.

"Companies like Nestlé will need to take action to support a strong recovery from COVID-19.

"One area that we are particularly concerned about is around access to food and people going hungry, particularly those families with children during these school holidays.

"We have announced a £1 million investment to support Community Shop in the UK and Food Cloud in Ireland. "This money will help 8,000 families this summer on behalf of our 8,000 employees.

"We will be working on other initiatives over the coming months to help our partners at Community Shop, Food Cloud and Fareshare as they support vulnerable people in our society."

Mr Agostini said Nestlé is also looking at ways to support the UK's hospitality industry, which has been hard hit by the crisis.

"The parts of our business that work in hospitality and retail have been hit hardest by the shutdown caused by the pandemic and we have been looking at ways to support our customers in this area.

"We will provide £2 million worth of free products to support our hospitality customers as they reopen and get back to business."

"This is part of our Always Open For You initiative and builds on our previously announced support for the hospitality industry, including extended credit terms and rental pauses for those customers most at risk."

Mr Agostini was speaking after Nestlé announced half year results last week showing 2.8 per cent growth in sales.

"We have performed well given the rapidly changing environment we have been dealing with in 2020. There was solid organic growth of 2.8 per cent and this was driven by strong demand for products and brands that people can enjoy at home like coffee, food and dairy.

"Purina, our pet care business, also performed very well through the first six months of the year."

In April, Nestlé completed the acquisition of Lily’s Kitchen, a natural pet food brand based in the UK and present across 30 different countries.

"The completion of that deal is an example of how we have continued to adapt and strengthen our business even with the challenges created by COVID-19.

"There have been a number of innovations, new products and services that we have been able to complete and announce under lockdown as we have continued to do business in the UK & Ireland.

"Demand for online shopping has obviously increased. There have been more new online shoppers in 2020 than in the previous five years and those who are over 65 years of age are spending nearly double on online deliveries than they were a year ago."

Mr Agostini said Nestlé was investing heavily in technology and innovation to remain competitive and safeguard jobs.

He added: "Clearly a lot has changed in 2020 and that will continue.

"We will have to be ready to adapt our business even further if we want to maintain strong performance and be in a position to contribute to the recovery.

"The pandemic has given us an opportunity to look at how we do things and make changes for the future.

"Nestlé will take this chance to do things differently to support a strong recovery.

"We expect things to continue to be very challenging and we will need to adapt quickly to a very fast changing environment.

"But we have a strong position here, I am pleased with how we have performed in the first half of the year and how our people in the UK and Ireland have responded to the crisis over the last six months."