Food consumers today are more concerned than ever with the integrity and quality of the goods they buy. Smart businesses are learning compliance isn’t just a ‘must-do’ to maintain product safety and keep the regulators at bay.
Rather, demonstrating integrity is becoming a source of strategic advantage in the marketplace, as it reassures customers that your products are safe to eat, ethically sourced and authentic to their name or label. That encourages brand trust and customer loyalty, which in turn will boost your bottom line.
We all know food products must be safe. Food recalls can cripple a company and rehabilitating your brand post recall can take a long time; and that’s if you’re lucky. You need access to the right technical expertise, whether that’s internally or externally sourced, to help you understand the risk landscape for your products.
This means you need to get serious about process control, environmental monitoring, and preventative maintenance for all your plant and sanitation programs. There are no short cuts, I’m afraid, but the risks far outweigh the costs.
Plus the benefits can be significant. Your customers aren’t the only ones affected by your food safety program; your suppliers and partners also have a stake in the finished product. By assuring them that you take food safety seriously – and demonstrating that commitment through practical, real-world measures – you’ll strengthen your business relationships and may even create new opportunities for collaboration and product development.
Responsible sourcing isn’t just about reassuring your customers that your products are authentic, not produced using slave labour, and are environmentally responsible – though this is critically important.
It is also about staying compliant. Responsible Sourcing is becoming an important piece of the compliance puzzle, as regulators now require more stringent controls, plus the evidence that these factors are understood and controlled by your company. This can be seen through the introduction of legislation for modern slavery and more stringent country of origin labelling.
But let’s take a step back. Notwithstanding the importance of your brand being able to survive both consumer and government scrutiny and the risk of doing the wrong thing – doing the right thing is business positive and yet another way to enhance your reputation.
Health and Wellness
Across the developed world, more and more people are suffering from food allergies. It may be due to shifting diets, ‘the hygiene hypothesis’ or local ecological changes. Nobody really knows why, but the result is that consumers are more alert than ever to what’s in their food.
That’s one reason why food declarations have become so important. Gluten-free, nut-free, allergen-free … customers must be presented with clear and reliable information so they can make informed choices about the foods they consume. In some cases the wrong information can be deadly.
Providing this information necessarily involves closely monitoring your supply chain, production processes and facilities, and even distribution; which all comes at a cost. But again, the upside is that it can become a source of competitive advantage. Suppliers and producers with a reputation for high-quality, accurately labelled foods will be trusted and preferred by customers.
In life, one should never stop learning, and we often hear about the need to ‘educate the consumer’. This is vitally important – educated consumers are more discerning consumers– but it’s just as important to educate your teams, suppliers and other partners.
Creating a risk-aware culture inside your organisation requires providing the right initial training with regular follow-ups. It must be led from the top and the right tools and work practices put in place to make it simple and easy to act with food safety in mind.
Food safety culture must be ever-evolving; it’s a journey. If you think your organisation is good enough, you’re wrong. It is a process of continuous improvement, fuelled by learning, communication and information sharing which embraces and facilitates doing the right things when no one is watching.
That said we absolutely appreciate that building a competitive advantage in food, based around the above four ideas, is easy to talk about and harder to execute. But, with the right partners you can start building sooner than you think – and the positive results won’t be long in coming.