COVID-19: One year on - an interview with Andy Leonard, CEO, Proper Crisps


Photo: Supplied by Proper Crisps

In 2020, we ran a series of local leadership blogs with a focus on Leading Through COVID-19  That series was designed to inspire and support a sense of togetherness as the region moved through the initial brunt of that challenge.

Now a little over a year on, we are taking the opportunity to reflect back on some of those interviews and revisit some of our local leaders and organisations. We're interested in finding out what's changed, what their outlooks are, and what's gone back to 'normal'.

In this interview, we chat with Andy Leonard, CEO of Proper Crisps. We last interviewed Andy in April 2020, when Proper Crisps were facing changes in demand, managing physical distancing guidelines in their factory and ensuring their production team felt appreciated and respected whilst other parts of the business were working from home.

Let's see what difference a year makes...

How are things going now, one year on?

Logistics challenges have worsened since we last spoke, both inbound and outbound shipping capacity constraints as well as significant cost increases. These challenges look likely to remain well into 2022.

Consumer buying patterns are trending in a similar way to COVID times, for example online continues to grow. Consumers remain prepared to spend on a "permissible treat”.

The absence of lockdowns has significantly improved team cohesion.

What have been the biggest changes for Proper Crisps due to the pandemic? Were any of these changes a surprise?

Logistics challenges have probably been the biggest change, which flows through to reviewing supply chain planning, inventory levels, storage facilities, staffing requirements, etc. It has forced us to plan further ahead than ever before. The significance and long period of the supply chain challenges have been unexpected.

Has the impact of the pandemic led to new opportunities or business innovations?

COVID has certainly led to a more thorough review and assessment of factory automation options, predominantly due to labour challenges. A small volume of offshore manufacturing is being considered to reduce supply chain challenges.

How has the engagement of your people changed?

COVID has confirmed the value of people interacting face to face. Staff satisfaction has been higher working from the office than home, as well as increasing team morale for our superb production people when the whole team is on-site.

Knowing that technology is there as an effective backup is comforting. COVID lockdowns certainly forced a trial run and ironing out all those systems.

Wellbeing and staying healthy has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind, i.e. staff sickness has a different lens than previously.

What are the biggest challenges facing your industry moving forward and how do you feel they can be managed?

Cost increases are rampant currently. Managing those costs and maximising the value of our product will be key over the next 6-12 months. Staff retention will be crucial when borders re-open as young people consider potential OE travel.

Over a year since the country went into lockdown, the vaccine is being rolled out globally and our borders are slowly starting to open up with our neighbours (with mixed success). What’s your future outlook for Proper Crisps and your industry?

Quality New Zealand food will be in high demand worldwide, with strong consumer demand for premium food products continuing here in New Zealand. The snack food trend of “less, but better for me” will grow further.

Improved logistics and travel options will result in getting the product to world markets faster and more efficiently….we hope!

And in a fast-growing company with increased complexities, managing burnout in people will be super important.

Enjoyed this interview? Read more from our COVID-19: One Year On interview series here.

Whakatū | Nelson

Te Whanganui-a-Tara | Wellington

Ōtautahi | Christchurch

Waiharakeke | Blenheim

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