Transparency: Gaining the competitive edge with consumers and retailers
By Brad Riemenapp and Lori Carlson
As a result of devastating foodborne illness outbreaks such as the recent romaine lettuce outbreak and shocking food scandals (e.g., 2013 UK horsemeat incident), it is understandable that consumers are cautious in their purchasing decisions. They need to be assured of the safety, quality and integrity of the foods they buy.
Telling the full story of where food comes from and how it is made is now an essential part of doing business to meet not only consumer expectations but manufacturers and retailers as well. Transparency—i.e., a set of actions which build credibility through openness, trust and accountability–helps maintain brand loyalty with consumers and deepens supply chain relationships. Brands, which can provide the necessary level of assurance and gain trust, have a competitive advantage with the opportunity to increase their market share.
Transparency is largely dependent on the reliability of information behind the product, production methods and any associated claims. Companies must first ensure practices and systems to manage their supply chain and production methods in a manner that ensures product safety, quality and integrity while subsequently verifying their effectiveness. The results of these actions form the basis for label claims and product messaging consumers can trust.
Certification schemes such as Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized programs and verification schemes such as Non-GMO Project Verified help power transparency by providing a framework for improved supply chain management, end-to-end traceability and continuous improvement in production. This helps protect against a recall for a safety, integrity or labelling issue, which can cause devastating financial consequences, brand damage, loss of shareholder value, and most importantly, consumer trust.
Transparency is powered by supply chain management practices that identify risk and apply controls to ensure not only the safety of ingredients used but also their authenticity and the accuracy of claims, which have an impact on the integrity of the final product. Traceability, on the other hand, provides visibility into the supply chain by being able to identify where a product is at any given point in the process. Traceability allows a company to quickly identify and recall contaminated or mislabeled product in the marketplace. Full traceability across all supply chain tiers also supports mitigation measures for fraud vulnerabilities and security threats.
Transparency comes full circle when it is backed by the independent assessment of a third-party certifier resulting in certification. The achievement can be openly communicated to supply chain partners and consumers alike via product certification marks and/or online databases announcing certification details, which builds trust in a company’s products and processes. Moreover, for supply chain partners such as retailers, audit details can be shared for enhanced transparency and trust.
Other programs, which support the transparency consumers and retailers seek, include farm assurance and animal welfare; organic certification for organic products; sustainability, ethical sourcing and fair trade certifications; and carbon footprint calculations/ carbon management plan.
Verification through testing
Consumers are more likely to trust label claims (and the brand) when they are backed by authentic data from credible sources. Verification through testing is an important part of the transparency story. It provides objective evidence to demonstrate truthfulness in claims, product integrity and the effectiveness of control methods. This evidence can readily be achieved through analytical, genetic and microbiological testing.
Product testing is commonly used to meet regulatory requirements for product labeling and verification of production methods or controls. Examples include testing to verify nutrient declarations, health claims, allergen claims such as gluten-free, and identity preservation (IP) claims such as non-GMO. Environmental and finished product testing may be used to verify production controls, which prevent hazards such as allergens and pathogens from contaminating the product. In these examples, testing achieves a two-fold goal as it verifies label information, claims and the safety of the product for regulatory compliance while—at the same time—providing transparent information consumers can trust.
Additionally, testing serves as a necessary vehicle to verify the integrity of materials at risk for fraud. Where supply chain controls (e.g., supplier approval program) do not fully mitigate the risk of fraud for high-risk ingredients such as ground meat, honey or olive oil, material testing of incoming lots can be added to supplement the program and provide the necessary level of assurance. Genetic and biochemical testing are industry standards for food fraud detection and aid in species identification of products. In this capacity, testing helps build transparency between the supplier and manufacturer and verifies label information consumers can rely on.
Telling your transparency story
Technology solutions are a necessary part of being able to tell the full story, meet consumers’ needs and increase a businesses’ market share.
This is because technology solutions help achieve traceability, ensure accurate labeling, identify risk, and improve supply chain management. These elements are critical to transparency and consumer trust as they provide veritable information about where food comes from and how it was produced to ensure its safety, quality and integrity.
Technology solutions integral to the transparency story include risk assessment tools, ingredient management platforms and advanced technology like blockchain. Further, the reliability of the technology and competency of the user are critical to transparency as they are the basis for determining supply chain, production and distribution controls—the key ingredients for keeping food safe and assuring its authenticity.
In short, put your business on the fast track for enhanced competitiveness and regulatory compliance through certification, verification, testing, and end-to-end traceability programs to drive transparency initiatives. Food businesses who fail to do so risk brand reputation, consumer trust and their bottom line.
About FoodChain ID
Previously known as FoodChain ID Group, FoodChain ID was, until recently, comprised of three divisions, Genetic ID, Cert ID, and FoodChain ID Non-GMO Project verification. In an effort to increase the depth and breadth of its offerings and enhance customer service, the business is now rebranded as FoodChain ID. FoodChain ID provides integrated food safety and food quality solutions that address the challenges and opportunities in the rapidly evolving food industry. Serving more than 31,000 clients in over 100 countries with a market-leading portfolio of testing, inspection, certification and consulting services, FoodChain ID helps companies navigate an increasingly regulated global food economy demanding higher levels of transparency, accountability, safety and sustainability.
|Brad Riemenapp previously led the Food Solutions Division of Covance, Inc., serving as Global V.P. and General Manager. He was responsible for all operational and commercial aspects of the business globally, including analytical testing services in Inorganic Chemistry, Proximate/Lipids Chemistry, Vitamin Chemistry, Microvitamin Chemistry, Microbiology, Food Packaging, Pesticides, Product Development and Food Consulting Services. Brad joined Covance in 2010 and previously served as V.P. of Operations, where he was responsible for driving cultural change, making the Food Solutions business more customer-centric and improving processes. Prior to joining Covance, he worked for 13 years at Kimberly Clark Corporation. He holds a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin Madison and a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree from San Diego.|
|Lori Carlson provides independent training and consultation services to the food and beverage industry. She has over a decade of experience in food safety and quality management, GFSI benchmarked schemes, regulatory compliance, and third party certification. Lori has authored numerous white papers, magazine articles and guidance documents and has contributed to the development of various food safety standards and food professional training courses for GFSI scheme owners and certification bodies. Contact the author through LinkedIn.|
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018).Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Linked to Romaine Lettuce. https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2018/o157h7-04-18/index.html
Brooks, S. et al. (2017). Four years post-horsegate: an update of measures and actions put in place following the horsemeat incident of 2013. npj Science of Food. Volume 1: Article number 5.
Deiters, J., Schiefer, G. (eds) (2012). Strategic Research Agenda on Transparency in the Food Chain towards 2020. Published by University of Bonn/ILB, ISBN: 978-3-941766-09-