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Cheese and wine

A taste of LRQA's Customised Assurance food group.

Stuart Kelly Chief Commercial Officer View profile

LRQA's Food, Beverage & Hospitality experts advise companies around the world on assurance programmes which deliver best in class standards in food safety and quality management.

Exactly what is Customised Assurance (CA)?

CA involves the creation of a tailormade programme which addresses a client’s risk management and compliance issues in a ‘full service’ assurance offering. That  programme, which may typically be run over an initial period of one to three years, is then implemented by a handpicked LRQA team of technical experts, selected based on experience and knowledge of solving issues relevant to that customer.

The overarching remit of any CA programme is to protect a company’s brand and reputation using risk and compliance management while often saving companies time, effort and money.

Can you give us an example of how you’ve saved a client time or money?

We recently worked with an international retailer on a due diligence paperwork project.

After working with LRQA, the retailer was able to significantly reduce the number of checks that staff needed to do, meaning less paperwork and freeing up employee time while still ensuring the job was done correctly and consistently across the group.

Conservative estimates showed that we saved enough money for them to pay for an outsourced compliance audit program delivered by us, giving them better brand  assurance, at no extra cost.

We’re seeing increasingly complex global supply chains and as a result, our clients are looking for new, different and more innovative ways of protecting their brands.
Head of Commercial Customised Assurance, LRQA Stuart Kelly

How do you help businesses in this sector?

We’re seeing increasingly complex global supply chains and as a result, our clients are looking for new, different and more innovative ways of protecting their brands. They’re looking for tailored, or customised assurance solutions which address their individual requirements rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We deliver what clients are looking
for - while helping LRQA meet its mission of making the world a safer place.

How do you identify a client’s assurance issues?

We focus on listening rather than selling. We invite the client to tell us about where they are on their business journey, how risk averse they are, what concerns they have, where they want to be and how quickly they want to get there – and then we verify it with them to make sure we’ve heard correctly.

Of course, we want everyone to be 100% compliant, but businesses have different obstacles and therefore different ways to overcome them, which we need to factor in if we are to demonstrate that we understand their pain points and ways of working. More often than not, this can become a progressive programme of work, with clear step changes over time, to improve the client’s compliance.


Does a CA programme include a series of certification products?

It may do, but the detail of the programme depends on that particular client’s business. It’s not just focused on what is needed to be compliant from a legislative perspective, but also what’s needed to manage risk with regards to local market conditions, the size and shape of the business, the people and processes which are in place, the culture of the organisation and even its growth plans.

We look to provide a ‘whole solution’ – and no two solutions look the same. And that’s why no two customised assurance programmes look the same. Whether it’s about growing, shaping or shaking up a food or drink business, we can help.

Which type of businesses does CA suit?

The CA model is most relevant for companies growing quickly – those that are focusing on new product development or expanding into new territories, ones with complex supply chains or diverse workforces. We look at both the business itself and the supply chain – which is only as strong as its weakest link. If a business is accused of having an unethical supply chain then it’s the brand which is slammed publicly, not just
the supplier.

Similarly, if a McDonald’s franchisee was found to be guilty of food fraud, then it’s the reputation of the McDonald’s brand which is damaged, not necessarily the franchisee.

Today’s consumer expects to buy something that is 100% safe. They want to know what’s in their food or drink...
Head of Commercial Customised Assurance, LRQA Stuart Kelly

What does that brand protection enable customers to do?

This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ – you need to have this to trade. Today’s consumer expects to buy something that is 100% safe. They want to know what’s in their food or drink – where it came from, that people in the supply chain were treated ethically.
It’s not just about your products, it’s about how you operate.

Our involvement means clients can focus on what they do best – developing products or services, growing their business and being successful – while we, as an independent service provider, ensure all the checks are in place to reduce the risks as far as possible.

What are the consequences to businesses that don’t have these checks in place?

All of us at LRQA understand the risks involved in a business failing to be compliant. Ultimately, for a food business, if something goes wrong, it can mean ceasing to trade. Some big stories have hit the press recently about food fraud and food safety
that kind of negative publicity can have a very damaging effect on a company’s financial position as well as its reputation and for some businesses, the share price just never
recovers. Consequences vary by market, dependant on legislation and regulation in those countries.

Taking a worst-case scenario, if someone dies as a result of food fraud for example, in some territories this could mean imprisonment and hefty fines for those deemed to be
responsible while in other jurisdictions, charges of corporate manslaughter can result in the death penalty.

Why should a food business choose to work with LRQA rather than anyone else?

Clients that have recently started to work with us have told us that we are genuinely better at listening, we offer a more effective programme which shows a real understanding of business and market challenges and we ensure the right people deliver what the customer needs, when they need it, in the areas they need it in. We understand that a brand is more than just a logo – it’s about how you do business.

We help businesses make improvements to how they do business, often throughout the supply chain. And while we’re told our competitors stop there, we continue to offer insights and add value along the way – being flexible in response to market
developments and changes in our customer’s business.

We aim to stay ahead of the curve so we can future proof businesses from issues that are likely to happen not just today but also tomorrow.