5 Ways to Promote Consumer Trust in the Food Industry

As a series of high-profile food scandals and scares have progressively eroded public confidence in recent years, consumer protection and the interests of the food industry should go hand-in-hand. Building and maintaining consumer trust is hard. But following a food safety incident or revelation of dubious practices, restoring consumer trust is harder still. The implications for missing the mark in terms of how the incident is handled can come at a high cost from both a revenue and brand perspective. 

While more and more manufacturers are explaining how they source and make products, a significant portion of shoppers remain wary. The human brain is wired to be sensitive to potential risks, therefore bad news spreads like wildfire, and the actions of a tiny minority of rogue suppliers can discredit the entire industry. The reality is that companies invest heavily in optimising food safety, yet very few consumers understand the challenges involved:

Accidental or deliberate contamination 

When our pantry is global, so are the chances of contamination. The majority of food recalls stem from operational deficiencies, and come at a high direct and indirect cost to firms. In undifferentiated markets, where consumers can’t distinguish between sellers of good product and contaminated product, this can result in consumer avoidance of the entire category.

Food fraud – when products are deliberately diluted, tampered with, mislabelled or otherwise misrepresented, or substituted with another product – is a highly lucrative business and often integrated with organised crime networks. But when economic times are tough, the opportunities to cut corners become harder to resist, even for otherwise legitimate businesses, as evidenced by the adulteration of food safety records by a major UK poultry supplier which made the headlines in late 2017. Food fraud also impacts on sustainability, nutrition, animal welfare and human rights, which are becoming increasingly important to consumers.

Food labelling

Food labelling is a huge area of contention: on one hand, consumers want more product information to make informed choices; on the other, they often distrust the accuracy of labels or are confused by them due to inconsistency or information overload.

Fundamentally, consumers’ needs are simple: they want to know they’re buying food that’s safe to eat, and doesn’t harm people or nature. In today’s digital world, relevant information needs to be made available to connected consumers at the time of purchase, particularly online where the shopper is at arm’s length from the physical product and packaging.

Greater supply chain complexity

No food safety system is perfect, but the greater the number of links in the supply chain, the more points available for penetration. Food supply chains are becoming longer and more complex, and therefore more prone to potential disruption. Most food retailers know all their first-tier suppliers, or have a good understanding of those suppliers with whom they have the highest spend, but a lack of insight into subsequent tiers or smaller suppliers means many can’t determine where ingredients are sourced from or how those ingredients are processed or handled.

Establishing the vulnerability of suppliers, especially those operating in higher risk jurisdictions, can be time-consuming unless companies implement ways to monitor and manage increased sourcing complexity. But without effective visibility into the supply chain, businesses can have significant blind spots in their enterprise risk management structure, leaving them exposed to potential legal, financial and reputational damage.

Shifting regulatory framework

The food industry has had to contend with a large number of new regulations and standards in recent years, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, together with numerous national programmes and industry initiatives that attempt to address the issue of food integrity and authenticity.

It’s therefore worth looking to the pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors, which provide a leading indicator of what’s likely to come in the food industry. Several bills and directives have been introduced across the EU and US dealing with pharmacovigilance, such as the use of serial numbers and track-and-trace technologies to prevent counterfeit drugs entering the legal supply chain.

Given the impact of food on public health, it’s feasible to expect to see greater regulatory focus on implementing similar requirements in the food industry.

Amid this complex landscape, food businesses can respond to these risks and challenges effectively, and help to restore consumer confidence in the industry as a whole, by taking five fundamental steps:

Step #1: Promote a culture of safety and quality from the farm to the shop floor Forward-thinking companies develop a culture of food safety through education and communication to ensure staff are aware of the importance of good practices and the controls to be applied. They are also proactively identifying and managing potential risks by analysing data within and beyond their organisation on leading indicators such as customer complaints and media reports. There is a range of nationally and internationally recognised standards for certification relating to product quality, social and environmental sustainability and system and process certification. Voluntary participation in such schemes can enable organisations to provide various assurances as a competitive differentiator.

Step #2: Lead risk-resilient business culture and best practices from the topThe buck stops in the boardroom. Business leaders need greater over-sight of and engagement with food trust issues, and executive buy-in is essential to developing a culture that is relevant and responsive to both current and emerging concerns. Food businesses need not reinvent the wheel, but should instead look to adopt proven practices from similar, highly-regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, to start building transparency and trace-ability into their processes now, rather than waiting to be forced by evolving regulation.

Step #3: Continuously review supply chain risks and benchmark against best practicesBusinesses are held accountable for their supply chain actors’ performance, yet for many, supplier risk management is regarded as something of a tick-box exercise. Regardless of which point in the supply chain may be responsible for a food crisis, customers tend to blame the brand from which it was purchased.

So it’s vital to have end-to-end visibility of the supply chain and carry out regular reviews of suppliers’ food safety and quality standards. Taking a pro-active approach to supplier risk management can pay dividends in terms of product integrity, reducing compliance costs, and minimising the need for product recalls.

Step #4: Make considered investments in technology-enabled solutions – The key to transparency is to capture full and accurate data about product movement. Modern manufacturing, warehousing and traceability solutions are designed to help businesses improve standards, manage risks and provide consumers with better information about food products. Industry-specific solutions are purpose-built to support full compliance with food regulations and guidelines, such as GS1. Real-time visibility enables businesses to pinpoint inventory at any stage of the production or logistics process, and automate quality controls and monitoring from end to end, so any problems can be caught before products make it into consumers’ hands.

Step #5: Focus on consumer transparency and prepare to handle crisis events – If a crisis should occur despite all reasonable endeavours, food companies should be able to support near-surgical recall – getting the minimum amount of product off the shelves at maximum speed. This capability can be developed through scenario analysis, planning and drills, underpinned by robust product recall and crisis procedures. A swift response is also reliant on the availability of data in a suitable reporting format within minutes rather than hours, which can support both the crisis event itself, and open and honest consumer-facing communications after the fact.

As bargaining power in the food industry shifts towards the consumer, we will see the lines becoming increasingly blurred between food safety, health and well-ness, and corporate social responsibility. When risks are well managed, there are opportunities to deepen relationships with today’s connected and demanding consumers, and create the conditions for sustainable, profitable growth in the process.

To understand how Signum Solutions and SAP Business One Food and Beverage edition can support such initiatives as GSI contact us on 01244 676900

10 Reasons your business needs SAP Business One

Signum Solutions understands as a growing business you are one step closer to selecting a business management software for your company’s changing needs. We know this is an important step in your company’s path and one not to be taken lightly.

To aid you in your journey we have listed the top 10 reasons why your business needs to move to SAP Business One. So you can see first-hand how you can significantly improve the way you manage your business.

  1. SAP Business One is affordable
  2. Specifically developed for small to medium enterprises (SME’s)
  3. SAP Business One is designed to grow with your business and can easily adapt to your changing needs
  4. Provides real time analytics ensuring you have full visibility of the data you need to make better business decisions.
  5. SAP Business One offers a wide range of industry specific solutions
  6. ERP solution that is fast to implement, easy to use and needs minimal IT support
  7. Gain fully integrated functionality across your entire business with SAP Business One
  8. SAP Business One gives you a fast return on your investment
  9. SAP Business one is from the word leaderin business applications – SAP
  10. It’s supported by Signum Solutions, Gold partner with SAP Business One Recognised Expertise and industry expert for Food and Drink, Food Service, Chemicals, Wholesale and Distribution and Manufacturing.

 

Your business has a lot of distinctive features. It’s time to make the move and find the perfect software fit for your business, contact your SAP Business One Industry experts, Signum Solutions on 01244 676900 for more information.

The food & drink supply chain: quality and contamination risks

Guest Blog by Food Journalist Paul Gander

In my last entry, I looked at the risks to the food ingredient supply chain from criminal adulteration of (usually relatively high-value) raw materials. In fact, the role of food fraud in downstream threats to quality and safety is minor in comparison with other challenges – despite the high-profile exceptions to this rule.

Those challenges from the upper reaches of the supply chain tend to have more to do with negligence than malice, potentially involving inadvertent contamination with allergens, pathogens or simply poor-quality ingredients.

Naturally, even those manufacturers which take the greatest care in screening and updating their supplier lists can fall prey to these issues. So is there anything else that can be done to reduce risk?

Increasing amounts of information directly relevant to quality monitoring are becoming available from external sources. Some of this comes from third-party quality/safety certification providers such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Just one small (but important) example is the BRC’s advice to manufacturers and other supply chain partners that they should check the certification status of supplier sites on its online directory. Talking to BRC packaging expert Joanna Griffiths ahead of the launch of the new issue of the Global Standard for Packaging, she told me that forged certificates of compliance were still a problem among some suppliers.

Third-party certification will provide reassurance with regard to the overall probity of your supplier, but what about specific contamination risks?

There may be nothing new about the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food & Feed (RASFF) when it comes to potential risks from allergens and pathogens, but the number of additional tools for monitoring the global marketplace is increasing and will grow still further.

Take, for example, the widening use of whole genome sequencing (WGS) of pathogens. While some still consider this an unnecessarily elaborate (and costly) route to relatively straightforward data, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is using the technique extensively, and in the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is assessing its wider value.

Head of science delivery at the FSA Alisdair Wotherspoon tells me that WGS and other relevant data is finding its way into the Global Microbial Identifier (GMI) project. This aims to create a shared platform and database ‘fingerprinting’ a broad range of micro-organisms and showing how they are linked.

On the level of chemical contamination, the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) has been developing the idea of ‘smart surveillance’. If you have a ‘snapshot’ of what is ‘normal’, chemically-speaking, (the theory goes) then you can pick up any divergence from that benchmark. This could in turn automatically trigger a system of ‘traffic light’ warnings.

Wotherspoon makes the point that the key developments with the GMI project, for example, will come in the field of bio-informatics. That is certainly true of the way data is collected, but equally important will be the IT routes by which businesses can access that – and other – data.

No one can eliminate risk from the supply chain altogether, but by accessing and integrating external data, future food manufacturing may be able to travel a long way in that direction.

To find out how Signum and SAP Business One can aid your business call 01244 676 900, or click the button below.

Food manufacturers: Tracing the Genealogy of a Product

With traceability of the full life-cycle being vital to anything that is being manufactured in the food industry being of the utmost importance when supplying to wholesalers, supermarkets and smaller retail outlets alike, here’s a handy guide to ensure that you don’t miss anything out!

  1. Start with the batch and serial number, checking that all number formats and counters are defined
  2. Check that the shelf life of a product is clearly defined – in both days and hours
  3. Define the batch management policy for expiry or consumption
  4. Calculate the expiry and consume by dates, based on the shelf life of the product
  5. Record the vendor/supplier batch number for each product
  6. Define the period between inspections and plan in future inspection dates
  7. Define the warning period for batch review and expiry date inspections
  8. Record all properties inherited from the product master data, including batch properties and values
  9. Record quality control results using actual test result values, which should be stored against batch properties
  10. Ensure that all of these stages are ticked off and that everyone is aware of this at each stage!

 

That’s a lot of information to trace.  How best to keep track of all of this?

That’s the easy part.  There’s no need for numerous spreadsheets and reports to provide all of these processes and controls, which are ultimately completely necessary when tracing the genealogy of a product.

The system that more and more food manufacturing companies are choosing is part of an SAP certified industry solution called ProcessForce, which is a core part of the Signum Solutions Industry Edition for SAP Business One. It handles all of the above, easily.  As well as doing all of this:

  • Creation of batch genealogy trees, providing a forward and backward historical view of all processes
  • Creation of recall and audit reports, including lists of customers and batch recall reconciliations
  • Drill downs of transactions and document traceability navigation functionality
  • Creation of inventory and batch reports

Want to find out more? 

Call us on 01244 676900 or email enquiries@signum-solutions.co.uk

 

Spicing up their future

It’s always great to see our customers succeed and it’s especially rewarding to see that success publicly recognised!

MRC, aka The Flava People, implemented SAP Business One with Signum in 2013 and this new ERP business system has given them a modern and flexible new platform, with industry specific features and functionality, to support the company’s growth plans.

Last month, MRC were announced as winners at the MEN Business of the Year 2014 awards ceremony, triumphing in the  category for businesses up to £10M turnover.

Congratulations to the team at MRC – you can read more about their journey with SAP Business One here.

Planning for Your Food Business ERP Project

Firstly – ask yourself: Do I really need an ERP system?

The idea to purchase an ERP system to dramatically improve the way your business works is not one that is usually thought up overnight.  Ideas of ways to improve processes or remove time consuming, erroneous tasks are what usually leads to the hope that there is an ERP system out there that can make things easier, less risky and in the long-term a great deal more cost and time effective.

Ideally, this ERP system needs to have the obvious features: not be too expensive to buy, host or implement; not be too difficult to learn and use; not be restrictive in terms of functionality needed for your business, or in terms of being able to deal with future company growth.

These features perhaps are not the best place to start for a food business though.  As part of an industry that relies on compliance and traceability to survive, the first thing that you need to do is to look at what should be easier and faster to accomplish in your business.  Then, list the specific features of an ERP that you need to achieve your ideals (such as integrated stock control, inventory management and sales so that you can track ingredients from origin to final customer) and from these, the benefits that you would hope to achieve.

Take a look at the current ERP system in your business, if you have one, and identify any opportunities for operational improvement.  This will form a basis for identifying areas for future growth, which in an ever-changing and evolving industry, is something you’ll need to make sure you have ticked off of your list when looking at ERP system features.

Once you have decided on your core requirements, make sure that the ERP systems you look at have solutions for these and can provide immediate business benefit.

How?  On top of checking ERP system features against your list of core requirements, there are some factors that should also be important in your food ERP decision making process:

1.       Modern

Firstly, ensure that the solutions you’re looking at are up-to-date.  It’s a competitive marketplace so most solutions are likely to feature the latest technology – it is these that you need to look at so that you can avoid future costs when something like going mobile with sales orders, becomes a necessity.

 2.       Food industry specific

Make sure that the solution is one that has been created with the food industry in mind.  This way, you’re far more likely to find that your food business requirements are met without the need to make enhancements to the base product, which can be expensive to create and to maintain – especially if a bespoke version becomes out of date and needs to be re-written if the software is upgraded.

 3.       Choose an experienced partner

Does the software vendor have experience in the food industry and really understand the ins and outs of food businesses?  They should be able to tell you what will and won’t work for a food business and know about the changing challenges that the food industry is facing.  In addition to this, check for plenty of examples of how their solution is already benefiting other food businesses like yours.

4.       Easy to use

Is the solution user-friendly?  One of the best things about an ERP system is that it should cater for all of your business processes and the best ones will do that altogether, in one centralised system.  This however also means that all of your business area employees may need to know how to use it – which creates the necessity for the software to be universally accessible, intuitive and easy to understand.

 5.       Scalability

Is the solute suitable for a global business?  Even if that’s not you at the minute, it might be one day and the last thing you’ll need at that point of your business growth is to have to go through another ERP implementation overhaul when you could be making waves overseas.  It is essential for growing businesses to have an ERP system that will grow with them.

 6.       Calculate the value

No ERP system is likely to be 100% perfect but if you can get 80% of what you identified in your requirements as standard, then you’ve cracked it.  Make sure you’ve considered value aspects such as problem solving, faster processing, how it will aid new business whilst keeping track of purchasing and inventory before weighing up the project costs, based on return on investment.

 7.       Making friends

When you choose an ERP vendor to partner with, you’ll hope that they can support you with the ERP system for many years to come (especially if you’ve made sure to pick a solution that is scalable).  You are going to have to work closely together for at least several weeks, if not months to begin with, to ensure that you get exactly what you want and need out of your ERP project.  Consider it in relation to hiring a member of staff – can you really see yourself working with them long-term?  Do they have a positive track record in your industry and have they got good references?  As with any product or service, success is measured by what the customers think and so, so if food businesses similar to yours have succeeded with a partner that you like, the chances are you will too!

To evaluate SAP Business One and Signum Solutions, give us a call on 01244 676 900