Although there are dozens of specialist assurance standards available for operators working across the global food and drink supply chain, these only partially address the issues unique to individual businesses. LRQA provides customers with a truly tailored range of services designed to strengthen processes, identify issues, drive improvement and protect brands.
Through combining LRQA's sector specialisms with expert insight and flexible technology, our team have been able to support some of the largest and most complex food and beverage businesses through challenging times.
Stuart Kelly, Head of Commercial, Customised Assurance at LRQA, discusses some of the key themes behind our customised assurance services and explains why the option of a tailored service often helps identify and eliminate risks which aren’t commonly identified by traditional certification.
What exactly is customised assurance?
Our customised assurance services are non-accredited, brand protection programmes and assessment schemes to provide a holistic and integrated approach to the assurance requirements of the organisation. How these services look depends very much on the type of customer and their specific requirements. From traceability and supplier integrity to food safety and health and safety, we can design a unique service.
Usually the solution involves the development and implementation of a customised auditing standard, but can also involve training, advice, supply chain services and complaint handling. One of LRQA's core strengths is that if a customer wants a specific service, we have the teams in place to create something specifically for them.
Which elements in the global food and beverage supply chain can benefit the most from customised assurance solutions?
The benefits of taking a customised approach to an organisation is that the solution can be simple where that meets the needs of the client, and for those larger, more complex primary producers, retailers, etc. the solutions are far more complex. The consistent component is that it is always based around the needs and structure of the client and their organisation. We believe that having the sector’s broadest team of specialists means we can offer solutions for farms, fisheries and food manufacturers as well as retail and hospitality providers.
How do you develop customised assurance services?
Everything we do starts with the customer. We look to really get involved with their business, so we can fully understand their pains and listen to their problems. Before we offer solutions, we often challenge them on their requirements, questioning what they really want to achieve while giving them focused advice based on our own experiences. From here we will then agree the scope of work, enter development phase and look to roll-out at an agreed time. Communication is the key to customised assurance and we ensure the project is given the right attention throughout. Often this involves multiple stakeholders from LRQA and by committing to this we give the customer the right access to the right people at all stages of work.
Are customised assurance services better than recognised accredited standards for the food and drink sector?
It’s not a question of better, it’s a question of what suits the customer. Some accredited standards really are excellent; BRCGS, FSSC 22000 and the Marine Stewardship Council’s Sustainable fishing scheme for example can bring real value and benefit to businesses. However, larger or more complex operators, particularly ones with a global supply chain, often need a mix of both to ensure they have a robust compliance process in place.
How long do customised assurance services run for?
Services last as long as they are required by the customer and depend on the scope of work. Some programmes are one off projects, others are longstanding and go back several years.
Sometimes customised assurance starts with reactive audits designed to highlight core issues and allow our teams to develop training programmes which specifically address the common problems encountered. We’ve frequently rolled this sort of solution out when businesses seek real and lasting cultural change and have been particularly successful with food manufacturers and restaurants looking to improve food safety practices.
Other customised assurance services are very much part of the customer’s business and a core element of their compliance commitments. For example, we are very proud of our work with a well-known consumer label who contract us to develop and strengthen their own-brand standard year-on-year, while also carrying out audits of sites across their supply chain. By outsourcing this responsibility to us and using a non-accredited service, they save money, enjoy far more flexibility, have access to a wider pool of experts and have also strengthened their brand standard significantly.
Training, advice, standard development and auditing aside, are there other examples of different customised assurance projects LRQA have been involved with?
Yes, there are lots and they are all unique. Some of the most complex, but most rewarding, are the supplier compliance programmes we run for many large hospitality providers. Basically, we check that their food and drink suppliers provide exactly what they are contracted to supply. This involves verifying certification, product provenance and nutritional value as well as allergen identification.
This information is then signed off as an approved product which is ultimately sold to their customers. The process is further safeguarded through un-announced site audits of suppliers and in some instances handling of any food complaints which we trace back to source with our technology platform.
You spoke about LRQA's technology and how that underpins your service, can you explain this in a little more depth?
Technology is vital to our offer, not just for customised assurance, but for everything we provide. The primary customer facing online tool LRQA Assist, is extremely powerful and can give customers a real-time overview of their customised assurance programme on any internet device. The information they can view on their tailored dashboard can include brand standard audit reports, live supplier information, corrective action overviews as well as other trends and reports key to their business. Much of the functionality is tailored to meet the needs of the customer and that’s a unique market place proposition and one which in turn brings real insight and value to customers who need more than a simple tick box solution.