Five immediate steps to decrease risk in the food supply chain


Roy Williams is managing director at Vendigital3 September 2014 | Roy Williams

Professor Chris Elliott’s long-awaited review of the food industry, which was commissioned in the wake of the horse meat scandal, is expected to be published imminently.

Based on the review’s interim findings published last December, Elliott is likely to recommend the introduction of a new requirement for all parties operating or managing the food chain to put consumers’ interests first over all other aims and for laboratory services to use standardised, validated methodologies for inspecting food.

Having previously warned that the sector is a “soft touch for criminals,” the review is also expected to call for the creation of a new food crime unit. There is currently nothing within the major police organisations, such as Association of Chief Police Officers or the Metropolitan Police Service, that deals specifically with food crime.

Despite complaints at industry level about the time it has taken to complete the review, the writing is on the wall and businesses in the sector should have taken some positive action already to shorten supply chains and improve visibility.

Food producers accept supply chain scrutiny is increasing and buyers up and down the chain are taking a more active interest in food quality and sources of supply. This is a positive step and will help to promote self-regulation, but further industry controls are needed to ensure such changes remain in the longer term.

Ahead of Elliott’s recommendations, there are some immediate steps food businesses can take to decrease their exposure to risk, these include:

Make supply chain management a priority. Supply chain management has become a frontline reputational issue for businesses across industry sectors and the growth of consumer activism is driving this. Making a board member directly responsible for supply chain management will ensure it is treated the same as any other significant risk affecting the business.

Buy local. Following the local-sourcing trend could help to reduce supply chain risk significantly but it is vital that this is done gradually over time and in partnership with your supplier to avoid placing the chain under undue pressure.

Have clear and well-communicated policies in place. These must be understood internally at all levels and across the supply chain. Regular supplier audits should also be carried out to ensure appropriate policies are in place. Clarity in this area is vital to ensure that procurement decisions aren’t taken that could cause reputational damage to the business in the future.

Pursue transparency across the supply chain. It’s no longer enough to take a ‘tier-one only’ approach to supply chain management. Make sure appropriate policies including checks and balances are in place across the board and monitor this closely.

Collaborate but don’t compromise. By all means be prepared to work together with suppliers to drive value and to achieve the required price point, but never compromise on food quality and safety.

☛ Roy Williams is managing director at Vendigital, a firm of procurement and supply chain consultants.

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