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Harvest Control

Using Customised Assurance to stay ahead of the competition.

Stuart Kelly Chief Commercial Officer View profile

With competition in the food market getting fiercer, many companies are now going beyond minimum expectations. Stuart Kelly – our Head of Customised Assurance - discusses how businesses can ensure these rigorous standards are consistently applied.

Certification standards have an essential part to play in ensuring the safety and integrity of our food, from ingredients to finished products, and from supply chains to processing units. However, to compete more advantageously and to protect their brand, many businesses are going beyond compliance. And this is where Customised Assurance programmes come into play.

Customised Assurance programmes enable businesses to look at the areas of improvement they want to focus on, particularly those that are of strong importance to their clients. These can include animal welfare, ethical supply chains, as well as CSR and other brand reputational risk factors. Businesses can also use the programme to ensure suppliers are following specified ways of working, rather than their own generic (albeit safe) methods and practices.

Is Customised Assurance more expensive?

The cost of Customised Assurance programmes should be measured against what is delivered and the value to the business at that point in their assurance journey. For instance, if a customised programme could improve supplier compliance with raw ingredient specifications, then this is a small price to pay to reduce rejections, stock control issues (due to shortage of materials) and possible product recalls, which otherwise would lead to the economic pressures of late or sub-standard delivery.

Customised Assurance also enables businesses to support their suppliers, making them aware of the importance of processing food according to best practice. This can be done through learning activities, best practice examples and agreed improvement plans, which are manageable for both parties. This process is important for businesses that want to contribute to communities and really make a difference, as it allows them to work with suppliers to get them to a level that they are comfortable with, rather than rejecting them immediately on the grounds of not meeting the rigorous standards they expect.

How LRQA can help customers identify problems and solutions

Once a customised assurance programme is designed and implemented, it is essential that the critical points are monitored, and clear intervention and escalation processes are agreed. Depending on the critical point, we can help measure in real-time using technology developed by LRQA and its partners. This can range from risk-based audit programmes that utilise algorithms to identify factors which heighten risk levels, through to global legislative change. These methods of always-on monitoring are becoming more and more prevalent. To aid further development and continual improvement, LRQA are currently piloting several new innovation projects, including:

  • Camera risk monitoring for immediate alerting
  • Free text analytics to ensure correct root causes are being identified in quality and complaint systems (to drive the right interventions)
  • Continuous auditing of supply chains through AI and deviations from specifications
  • Expected mass balance calculations (to prevent product recall issues further down the chain)
  • Technology that collates daily, weekly and monthly monitoring checks, to drive trend analysis and improvement ideas.

The issue with 'real time' assurance is that it is heavily reliant on data. This can mean a lot of 'noise', unless it is cleansed, leaving critical data that can be used to identify threats, issues and solutions. A lot of businesses end up with too much data, too many reports and too little focus on what really matters and why.

Our technical teams work with clients to remove the noise and ensure the right data, escalations, interventions and risk models are used.

How can LRQA help my business make use of critical data

It's easy to forget that times have changed - yesterday's critical risks are not necessarily todays. Businesses now contend with rapid product development capability, the ever-changing supplier landscape, legislative changes, machinery upgrades, lost customers, as well as complex emerging markets.

A regular full review - part of our account management programme - ensures our clients' business plans and roadmaps are still on track, changing them as required and making sure the right data is being measured, alerted, trended and used to control risks in line with any changes.

We have already helped businesses develop specific learning content to improve their supplier performance to customised standards and as such, drive product integrity. We've also audited programmes that focus on the critical areas to their business, before measuring the success of these initiatives.

Through our customised programmes, we've provided report analytics and technical account management insight to our clients, including the identification of poorer performing sites. Swift intervention has enabled issues to be resolved quickly and efficiently, minimising disruption to global supply, product integrity and brand reputation.

Going global

Global businesses - or those aspiring to become global - need to develop or partner with the right level of expertise in local markets, to ensure all legal and cultural requirements are met. Local expertise can help support and drive supplier compliance with requirements and where they have a programme that has a complex set of deliverables, timelines and outcomes.

At LRQA, our dedicated team ensures that project expectations are captured and delivered, and all strategic discussions are aligned around company direction, market insight and opportunities for improvement.

What is key to customised assurance is that one size does not fit all, it is a program of assurance, designed with a client, to address specific concerns, risks and growth/change aspirations, developed by our technical experts in conjunction with those of the client to move and change in step with the business. We provide the technical expertise to design, develop, implement and improve these solutions, freeing up clients to focus on their business.