Advising Capitol Hill on insurance
Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic
The Consumer Brands Association, which recently rebranded, suddenly finds some of its member companies such as Lysol and Clorox in the national spotlight due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bryan Zumwalt, executive vice president of public affairs, joined what was then called the Grocery Manufacturers Association last summer to help relaunch the packaged goods trade organization.
Months after the group's revamp, the pandemic hit and products such as toilet paper from Charmin, another member, were some of the hottest commodities in the U.S.
"Consumers were hoarding products from the store shelves and one of the earliest concerns that we had, particularly as it related to brand risk, was dealing with potential price gouging issues. Consumers were acquiring these products in bulk, there was a lot of fear about the supply chain ability to provide a lot of those products," Zumwalt said.
Zumwalt worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have two Lysol products, its disinfectant spray and disinfectant mist, become the first cleaning agents approved as officially effective against the coronavirus.
The association also worked to ensure that grocery store workers and cleaning supply manufacturers were designated essential workers by the Trump administration.
"Early on we were designated as an essential industry for obvious reasons and so the most important component of that designation is ensuring the supply chains to the products consumers needed stayed open and remained on the shelf. It was a mad dash to help support all the important regulatory decisions, working with federal agencies to get the things done that we needed done," Zumwalt said.
Zumwalt, a father of two and avid fisher, says he completely switched gears after his initial landing with the association.
"We came into this year assuming that the biggest thing we'd have to do is launch the new organization, launch our campaign and then deliver a handful of the results within those campaigns that provided a new value proposition for our member companies," he said.
The California native previously worked as the vice president of federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council, and before that served as chief counsel for Senate Republicans on the Small Business and the Environment and Public Works committees.
He was also previously counsel to former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and says his work in Vitter's office, particularly surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, helped to prepare him for the situation brought on by the pandemic.
"It was similar in terms of a crisis response, having to make sure that we were working with the appropriate regulatory agencies and ensuring that we were responding to constituent needs at the time. I think the big difference between the BP oil spill versus COVID-19 and what we've been experiencing through the pandemic is just the scope of the impact," he said.
Consumer Brands Association immediately intervened on the soaring prices Americans faced earlier this year on products that could help keep them safe from the virus. Zumwalt lobbied the Justice Department to step in and crackdown on bad actors and, since then, the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force was created to monitor the situation.
He also worked with the EPA to establish an accelerated process to approve supplier and manufacturing plant changes for disinfectant producers to keep the supply chain moving, as well as expedite the clearance process for disinfectant products made outside the U.S.
Zumwalt has dealt with international challenges that emerged from the pandemic, working with the State Department to protect the supply of raw materials from Malaysia to Mexico because foreign governments were considering closing manufacturing facilities.
But he says President Trump's move in June to slap new limits on foreign workers by suspending the issuance of temporary work visas complicates issues for the consumer packaged goods industry.
The association is concerned with "getting employees in from out of the country" and "what it means with ensuring we can get international work forces or specialized experts that need to do work that member companies that have senior level employees that are based outside of the country," Zumwalt said.
The group is also heavily invested in the debate over reopening schools because of the strain in-person classes could be on the supply chain.
In a letter to Vice President Pence, who is overseeing the administration's coronavirus response, Zumwalt encouraged the federal government to create a task force to study and protect the supply chain for disinfectants and cleaning products.
"How do schools impact the supply chain? What do we do to make sure that we can deliver there?" he asked.
Consumer Brands Association also runs the Critical Infrastructure Supply Chain Council, which was launched in May. While supply issues have always been important to the association's members, the coronavirus pandemic has put the spotlight on it and, Zumwalt said, showed the resiliency of the industry.
"What COVID-19 did was really laid bare all the potential vulnerabilities and the need to ensure a better understanding and a more comprehensive approach to securing supply chains in the future, particularly when there's a national emergency," he said.
Contactless technologies and procedures are an important next step for the industry to embrace, Zumwalt said. The group recently brought together more than 20 consumer packaged goods companies to form a task force committed to studying the impact of contactless pick-up and delivery on efficiency and employee risk.
"I think innovation and technology are going to advance at an increased pace, particularly as it relates to contactless technologies and the supply chain," Zumwalt said.