A recent report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) stated 73 per cent of supermarket chickens contain the potentially killer bug campylobacter.
The major supermarket chains have quite rightly announced actions they will be taking to address the risk this bug represents. To ensure success in combating these risks the supermarkets must be prepared to look beyond their own organisations and take greater control across their supply chains.
Effective supply chain management controls the people, organisations, activities, information and resources that go into moving a product or service from concept to the store shelf. Effectively implemented, that product will be delivered with the right documentation, in the right quantity, at the right quality, to the right place, at the right time.
While the majority of the big supermarkets will argue their quality assurances given by suppliers are to a satisfactory standard, the evidence from the FSA suggests this is not the case and that change is needed.
Ultimately, it is not acceptable to simply blame suppliers if something goes wrong. If you look at the pharmaceutical industry, for example, in 2012 the European Commission passed the Falsified Medicines Directive. Key to this was a legal requirement for all manufacturers to apply European auditing standards to all their manufacturers and the ingredients they use.
Similar practices amongst retailers would see them taking a greater responsibility over the sourcing of food. Such an approach would mean retailers could no longer rely simply on assurances from a supplier as to how a product is sourced or farmed. The supermarkets themselves would need to take control of the supply chain: they, or their representatives, would have to visit first-hand the sites they procure their food from – to meet the farmers and their staff, and to see how produce is handled, stored and processed.
The fallout from this will be testing for relationships. The supermarkets will be forced to ask potentially difficult questions of suppliers, and if their answers are not satisfactory retailers must be prepared to walk away.
Failure of the supermarkets to take proactive control of their supply chains will lead to them further alienating themselves from their customers – they need to make sure they are giving the right information, and are remaining transparent and accountable across their supply chains. Customers are more opinionated than ever and in the case of malpractice they won’t hesitate to voice their concerns and shop elsewhere.
☛ Nick Miller is head of FMCG at Crimson & Co