Building confidence and competence with technology
Today’s business realities are unlike anything that could have been predicted a decade ago. The days of selecting your suppliers based on their promise to supply “good” products, and consumers knowing only what you wanted them to know, are long gone. The internet, globalization of our food supply, shrinking margins and new regulations have driven epic changes in our industry. Rather than getting down on today’s business realities, we should be thinking of them as opportunities.
It’s clear that consumers are increasingly interested in food safety. It is also clear that this is an opportunity for manufacturers and their trading partners to step up and engage consumers with messaging that will help build loyalty or at least not hamper it.
Manufacturers also need to understand that communication and transparency are critical to managing the new normal in food safety. Sharing tips on safe food storage and preparation with shoppers and similar programs helps build a reservoir of goodwill with shoppers that will help when issues like recalls or foodborne illnesses occur. Shielding the public from the internal food safety workings of the store or distribution centre may seem like it is protecting the company, but it’s really creating more risk. Companies need to be as open and upfront as possible with consumers in order to gain and retain their trust.
Canadian and American food safety legislation is requiring food processors, and now importers as well, to know much more about their suppliers. Until very recently, importers could import products from virtually anywhere while knowing little, if anything, about the products. All that the importer required was the supplier’s written assurance that the product complied with the importing country’s food regulations.
Domestic food processors in Canada and the U.S. didn’t have it quite that easy. A food processor shipping food and/or ingredients across provincial or national boarders was supposed to have a HACCP program in place for the product(s) in question. Critical components of any HACCP plan are the prerequisite programs, part of which deal with their supplier’s food safety program. Previously, all that a processor needed to do to show HACCP compliance was to have their suppliers complete an annual questionnaire about their food safety program. Rarely, if ever, did the processor audit their supplier’s food safety programs if things went smoothly. Most food processors found this exercise to be a significant administrative burden.
Now importers and food processors in the U.S., and soon in Canada, are required to validate and subsequently verify that companies supplying goods to them, whether imported or acquired domestically, have acceptable food safety programs. Included in these requirements is the need for the importer and food processor to test, with some regularity, the ingredients and/or products to further verify compliance. So, if you thought that administering an annual supplier questionnaire was a burden, what will you do now?
There is cloud-based technology to help processors and importers meet new food safety requirements. Systems like ReposiTrak (www.repositrak.com) go beyond just storing digital copies of documents and help to manage compliance with exception-based alerts for expired, missing or inaccurate records. ReposiTrak goes directly to the supplier for all the information you require, which could be the supplier’s HACCP plans including their prerequisite program along with how the supplier has validated and verified the HACCP program. Once received, the ReposiTrak system confirms compliance by reading inside uploaded documents and compares contents vs. requirements to detect inaccuracies and/or misrepresentation. ReposiTrak also goes one step further and combines its web-based solution with an in-house team assigned to reach out to those suppliers to help correct persistent non-compliance issues. This is the only cloud-based food safety documentation program exclusively endorsed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), whose membership includes retailers and wholesalers across Canada and the U.S.
The realities we face today are dramatically different from those we faced a decade ago. Dealing with the diversity of the changes will be challenging. Fortunately, adapting to change and succeeding through innovation is in our DNA.