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15 November 2016

The importance of supply chain monitoring in the food and drink industry

by George Hall

By now the repercussions of the 2013 horse meat scandal have surely been felt by all in the food and drink industry. Any lessons learned have been cascaded throughout the supply chain, with more stringent supplier and certification body auditing having been underway for some time now.

Unannounced audits are now commonplace, with the BRC and larger supermarket chains, including Walmart and Tesco, making these part of their terms of working and simply expecting their suppliers to comply. Would this level of scrutiny have been part and parcel of the industry had the horse meat scandal not come to light? I’m not too sure. But despite the extra pressures placed on all businesses, I do feel the steps are correct and required.

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Knowing where something has come from is paramount in all aspects of life, not just commerce or industry. Some people are willing to look the other way for a good deal, like off the back of a lorry transactions that go ahead. Others, though, demand further information on where an item originated and where it passed through the supply chain.

A lot of this tracking information relies on suppliers. To ensure the information provided is correct, that they meet a specified code of conduct and certain standards, such as BRC or ISO 22000, can require a lot of time and effort within an audit process. Spreadsheets - full of fancy colours and manual reminders - are most often the format of choice for ensuring suppliers are checked on time and often.

However, as with any manual process, this comes with its own risk, such as target dates being missed or simply being overlooked as it relies most often on a visual assessment of the data contained within. Then, as the audit process moved forward there is a lot of preparation time required to pull together data from the last visit, any standards they are expected to meet along with any assessment questions set by the customer themselves. Even once on site, it can be difficult to carry everything required around, which quite often results in many audit reports and results being written or typed up back at a hotel after the working day has finished. Looking back at scribbled notes and trying to decipher just what it is you actually wrote after a long day is never a good way to ensure accurate information is captured.

Similarly, any issues you may have with a supplier often results in many days’ worth of emailing and calling to ensure any Corrective Actions have been applied and further control measures implemented to prevent any recurrence. The reliance on manual reminders here can have serious repercussions should a target date be missed, which could, in a worst case scenario, result in the delayed shipment of a product to a customer.

Some would argue the extra time and effort being put into Supply Chain Monitoring is warranted, and to some extent I agree. No business out there wants to be the next major supplier to have either the world’s media pointing lenses and microphones at them whilst demanding answers or, perhaps more importantly, losing the trust of their long-term customers and the potential losses this could lead to!

I am also certain that everyone reading this monitors their supply chain to the best of their abilities and in line with all company requirements. However, in the spirt of Risk Management, let us consider a worst-case scenario in that something like this may happen to your organisation. Are the processes and systems you have in place going to allow you to respond to whatever arises in a quick and effective manner?


Want to explore these topics further? Click here to download ‘A Guide to Managing Food Safety Successfully’ whitepaper. You will also be the first to receive Ideagen’s ‘Best Practice in Supply Chain Quality Management 2017’ when it is published in January.

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