Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion

Why we need a government supply-chain office now, more than ever

April 2, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC
A semi-trailer truck drives through the parking lot of a Kroger Co. grocery distribution center in Louisville, Kentucky on March 20, 2020.
A semi-trailer truck drives through the parking lot of a Kroger Co. grocery distribution center in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Friday, March 20, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is leading Americans to buy more groceries, from poultry to dried goods, as they prepare for an extended period of so-called social distancing. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Luke Sharrett—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Panic buying of some consumer goods amid the coronavirus crisis is leading Americans to ask whether the products they need will be available. The answer is an unequivocal yes—as long as manufacturers, retailers, governments, and consumers all work together. 

America’s consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry and the 20 million employees who support it are dramatically increasing production to meet unprecedented demand. Our supply chains are performing well and working overtime to deliver critical household staples to help Americans face the coronavirus pandemic. To keep product deliveries flowing and store shelves stocked, we are focusing on several key areas.

First and foremost, we are working with federal and state officials to make sure our critical manufacturing facilities are kept open. We support White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that limit gatherings. Yet, to protect the reliability of the supply chain, we must keep manufacturing running. Some states and localities have exempted CPG manufacturing facilities, while others have not. This lack of uniformity and consistency places at risk our industry’s ability to respond to consumer needs during a vital time.

To ensure essential products are available, we ask all state and local governments to embrace the Department of Homeland Security’s standards for critical infrastructure. These important standards encourage the exemption of CPG manufacturers from gathering bans and curfews, provided such facilities follow worker safety guidelines established by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Making these ongoing exemptions uniform across the country will ensure we can continue manufacturing products that are critical to public health and to mitigating the spread of the virus.  

Second, we must keep our freight system—trucking and rail—operational and efficient. We commend the Trump administration for temporarily lifting restrictions on hours of service for truck drivers. Drivers are currently spending more time than usual waiting at distribution centers, which counts against their allowable service hours. This measure isn’t to keep truck drivers working around the clock, but instead to provide them the flexibility they need to efficiently transport essential goods across the country. This move, along with clearer and more consistent federal and state policies that allow healthy manufacturing and retail workers to get to their jobs, allows vital links in the supply chain to continue delivering high-demand products to stores and customers, where they are needed most. 

Third, we need global supply chains to remain operational. We encourage the administration to swiftly oppose foreign countries imposing bans on exports of critical materials and supplies that are important to protecting health and safety in the U.S. We also encourage a delay on any new regulations that could hinder the delivery of goods or curtail widespread access to critical products. These well-intentioned regulations, like updating the nutrition facts label on food and beverage products, are important, but implementation at this time would require resources that industry should be directing to the crisis.

Now more than ever, we need a central clearinghouse that oversees all elements of a high-functioning supply chain. We ask the administration to create an Office of Supply Chain to coordinate the work of federal agencies and state and local governments that are making decisions about the movement of goods as this crisis evolves. As more and more Americans are asked to self-quarantine, work from home, avoid mass gatherings, and observe bans or curfews, easing constraints on the supply chain will help ensure that necessary products get to consumers as quickly as possible.

These are some of the important steps that must be taken for the U.S. to effectively manage the challenge before us, but the responsibility does not end with the government. All Americans can help. Here are two simple ways:

Buy only what you need for the week ahead. Stockpiling goods keeps products out of our neighbors’ hands, makes it harder for retailers to keep up with restocking, and causes unnecessary anxiety about the availability of goods.

Thank workers on the front lines of America’s food supply chain. Their dedication—supported by responsible actions from government, industry, and everyday Americans—will help our country manage this crisis. We’ll get through this together.

Geoff Freeman is president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association.

Jeff Harmening is chairman and CEO of General Mills.

More opinion in Fortune:

—The coronavirus has shattered the drug development status quo
—2 things every business must consider before laying off employees in a recession
—There will be another pandemic after the coronavirus. It’s time to start preparing
—Why the coronavirus won’t cause widespread chaos in the U.S.
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: CEO of Canada’s biggest bank on the keys to leading through the coronavirus

Listen to our audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily