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

Batch Traceability – Looking for a needle in a haystack

If your business produces products within a regulated industry, batch traceability is of the utmost importance. The reality of “Batch Traceability” is that it is a highly complex multi-dimension issue that touches all parts of the enterprise.

The problem arises, when you have to find the cause to understand the effect, regardless if you’re undertaking a real life or simulated product analysis and recall. Searching through your batch record Big Data, is like “looking for a needle in a haystack”. Visualisation is the optimum way to sift through the data haystack to find the information needle point to increase visibility, reduce the time and cost of analysis to make timely and informed decisions.

Using our SAP Business One – Industry Edition with ProcessForce, provides such a solution for regulated industries, allowing users to quickly understand the batch path (both forwards and backwards) and batch status through the inventory and production flow process and to then drill down to understand the transactional effects and implications across the enterprise.

If you want to know more about how can help, call 01244 676900 or fill in the form below.

 

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.

The food & drink supply chain: the threats from food fraud

Guest Blog by Food Journalist Paul Gander

Unless yours is a vertically-integrated food & drink business which runs the entirety of its own ingredients sourcing operation from field to fork-lift, there will always be doubts and concerns about the supply chain.

Periodically, scares and scandals about upstream criminal adulteration – from melamine in milk powder to horse meat – do a particularly good job of eroding consumer and retailer confidence. Out of the 2013 horse meat debacle came the Elliott report and its key recommendation that a National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) be set up in the UK. But, given the Government’s response to that report, is this the best way to shore up downstream confidence, both among manufacturers and their customers?

Apparently in ‘listening mode’, the Government did indeed establish the NFCU under the auspices of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and last year appointed the experienced Andy Morling as its head.

Several months into his new job, Morling admitted to me that there were serious gaps in the unit’s understanding of the threat from food crime in Britain. That is to be expected, at this stage. Less easy to accept has been the suggestion by the FSA that the NFCU may never have full investigatory powers.

If there is an episode of the Keystone Cops where the cops themselves – rather than the criminals – are handcuffed, this sounds like it. Coincidentally, one insider who worked on the Elliott report did confide that he saw the whole thing as a ‘classic Whitehall farce’ designed to kick the question of food fraud into touch. Let’s hope the drama does not shift from comedy to tragedy.

On a practical note, Morling wondered whether the principles of situational crime prevention (SCP) could be applied to the food arena. For anyone not familiar with it, SCP is defined by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology as any strategy aiming to reduce criminal opportunities rooted in everyday routines.

The institute cites CCTV as a prime example of SCP in action. But what would the equivalent be in a food fraud setting?

If we cannot literally ‘watch’ our suppliers every minute of every day, we can collect, collate and access data about them; and data, it could be argued, is the ‘CCTV’ of supply-chain security.

Manufacturers will have to judge how much testing of ingredient consignments (and what sort of testing) should be carried out. At the same time, they are likely to be extremely reliant on third-party auditing and certification at source. Diligent data collection may throw up worrying trends and anomalies among suppliers or their ingredient specifications. This in turn may allow businesses to step in early to avert more serious consequences.

Of course, neither frequent testing nor auditing is likely to produce direct evidence of wrongdoing. That is beside the point. The primary role of a speed camera, for example, and its role from an SCP perspective, is to deter speeding.

It has been said that the food industry supply chain operates on the basis of quality assurance rather than quality control. But ‘assurance’ can (and in many cases should) be improved. Going beyond the legal minimum with overt test procedures and the active use of third-party certification must help to deter fraud, while also reassuring customers.

On this last point, as with the creation of the NFCU (a cynic might say), it would be difficult to separate out the tangible and practical benefits from the ‘soft’ – and, in the case of the NFCU, political – benefit of simply being seen to be doing something.

To find out how Signum can help your business call 01244 676 900, or click the button below.

 

 

 

The Need For 360° Traceabilty

360 Tracability

If you’re part of a regulated industry supply chain whether it’s pharmaceutical, chemicals or food, traceability is a necessary evil. Governing bodies and codes of practice regulate the industry to ensure standards are implemented for consumers, examples include FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (CFR) and Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) http://1.usa.gov/1mh3QfJ , FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) http://1.usa.gov/1mh36ay  and the BRC Global Standards http://bit.ly/1mh4Vo2

Just saying “Batch Traceability” sounds really easy, but in reality it’s a complex multi-dimension business issue which touches all parts of the enterprise, and should be managed in a holistic manner.

We all hear the term Big Data and its loose definition of large volumes of data, and its related problems with data capture, storage, search, analysis and visualisation to name but a few. But depending on the industry, product, customer and user, Big Data problems tend to be specific to you!

Searching through batch records and other related data can take time, with input from different departments, when trying to understand the cause and effect, when undertaking a real life recall or a BRC audit. But with the paradigm shift created by SAP HANA, data visualization and predictive analytics totally changes the way users consume data and analyse business problems.

Visualisation is the optimum way to view data, dramatically increasing visibility to help hotspots, while predictive analytics can provide early warning of problems before they arrive, thus reducing time and cost to make timely and informed decisions.

An example of Visualisation would be a traceability dashboard or plotting customers with the defective batch on a google map. While for predictive analysis trending customer complaints indicating a potential product re-call.

ProcessForce  provides relationship map visualisation to tackle the topic of batch traceability. For example, it has helped one of our customers, UK food and beverage producer Evolution Foods support their BRC requirements, ensuring  timely compliance within the reporting timelines.

Visit our case studies page and read the Evolution story.

 

Batch Control – Anytime, Anywhere, Instantly

In any ERP system, searching through your item batch records and other related data can take time. You’ll find input from different departments, and it will take time to try and understand the cause and effect of a batch problem – time that, in real life, with BRC audit compliance in mind, you just don’t normally have!

In SAP Business One, and with the paradigm shift created by the game-changing HANA platform that powers the system, , data visualization and predictive analytics totally change the way you consume data and analyse business problems.

Our focus on Food and Beverage, along with Chemicals, have given us a great understanding of the needs of companies operating in a batch controlled environment, where traceability is a fundamental business need. Our SAP Business One – Industry Edition, delivers this next generation, 360 degree view of traceability and makes it simple for you to achieve compliance.

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