Making food supply chains less complex

6 March 2013
Food supply chains have become too long and complex, crossing many borders and involving many different organisations. This has led to increased risk, as highlighted in the recent meat scandals. As global trade continues to grow, it is unlikely our food chains will revert back to become entirely locally sourced. But it is clear from recent events that things need to change and supply chains need to be better managed. Visibility across all aspects of an organisation’s supply chain is crucial.  Robust processes are needed to identify critical points in the supply chain and determine the levels of resource needed to manage and monitor each stage. There are two key business decisions to look at. First, should a company process/manufacture the products themselves? Morrisons, for example, has a highly integrated supply chain that gives it high levels of control. Second, if you do not manufacture yourself, where in the world should the products be sourced from? Once an organisation has decided on its sourcing strategy, risk analysis is essential. An appropriate level of collaboration with a supplier must be determined to ensure the safety of its products and ultimately its brand. Supplier management, longer term relationships and real collaborative activities all help to build trust and commitment with these suppliers that can lead to a more sustainable business to benefit all stakeholders. The challenge with the food supply chain is that it is not a static playing field and risk moves around. Key people move on and new risks appear that had not been considered previously, which can leave a company vulnerable to unexpected problems. There has to be a horizon-scanning function to keep abreast of trends and shifts that could ultimately impact on the performance of the supply chain. As consumers we must recognise we play a key role in the food chain and our expectations may need to be re-calibrated as we move forward. We have to trust the organisations in the chain they are continuously striving to provide us with safe products that meet our needs, and understand that this is incredibly difficult, especially when faced with unethical actions in some parts of the supply chain. ☛ Dr Denyse Julien is a senior lecturer in supply chain management at Cranfield School of Management
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