By Neil Coole, Director, Food Americas, BSI
When it comes to consumers and the food they eat, there is a trust gap. The growing trend of micro-attention to food provenance in high-end restaurants shows that while some people may not really want to know the name of the farm where their salad or chicken came from, they are interested in a deeper relationship with their food and want to feel confident about what they are eating — that it has been responsibly sourced and that it is the genuine product they are paying for.
To continue to keep the trust of consumers, food producers, manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers battle a constant barrage of risks up and down their supply chains, including human rights abuses, issues of food safety and quality, shortages brought about by natural disasters, and theft during shipping. Recent incidents and reports highlight just some of these risks and their impacts.
Human rights abuses
Climate change and conflict are among the things that are leading to a rise in the number of children who are forced to work. Worldwide today, 152 million children under age 18 are working, with almost half of them working in hazardous conditions.
Food quality and safety
In a months-long probe, investigators sought to find out the reason romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma, Arizona, region became contaminated with E. Coli, sickening more than 200 people across 36 states and killing five consumers. The culprit turned out to be a canal that supplies water to many of Yuma’s farms. The canal runs by a cattle feedlot where manure likely washed into the canal, contaminating the lettuce.
A series of natural disasters have plagued the Midwest this year from the flooding in Nebraska to the multiple “bomb cyclone” snowstorms that hit the plains. Weeks after these historic storms hit, farmers were still recovering. Today, many farmers are still grappling with the aftereffects, with many forced to delay spring planting and dealing with the loss of grain storage due to contamination. Given the impact of these disasters, farmers are unable to deliver nearly the quantity and quality of goods they would in a normal year.
BSI’s incident data analysis in the Annual SCREEN Global Intelligence Report reveals that food, beverage, and consumer products were a top commodities stolen in cargo theft incidents in 2018. Despite the difference in tactics used by thieves in North America, BSI continues to note similarities among all countries in the region when analyzing the types of commodities stolen most frequently. Food and beverage make up 27%, consumer products and electronics make up 16%, and metal and alcohol & tobacco each make up 7%.
These incidents and studies highlight just how damaging these risks can be to companies operating in the food industry. In the face of all of these risks, food producers, manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers must work hard to maintain consumer confidence in their products, as once consumer trust is lost it is hard to win back. Breaches of consumer trust can have a lasting impact. According to a 2018 report by the Center for Food Integrity only 25% of consumers have a high degree of confidence in the food system, a drop from 37% in 2017.
Building trust and security into the food supply chain more broadly is no small challenge. Forward-thinking companies have turned to standards to help them manage risk throughout their supply chains. Many organizations are now able to see the unknown risks throughout their supply chain by utilizing a holistic approach to risk management. The traditional approach to external auditing has been one standard focuses on one area of risk (for example, environmental risk – ISO 14001). Now organizations can cover 15 key areas of risk from their suppliers with one audit, through the Holistic Risk Management Solutions from BSI (PAS 7000 & VerifEye). With knowledge of these requirements, organizations can address things like production quality, supply chain security, workplace conditions, and environmental sustainability, helping them to avoid losing customer confidence and risking reputational crisis.
As companies are implementing best practices, there are also real-time monitoring solutions they can utilize that provide insight into food safety and fraud risks, along with global security, corporate social responsibility, and business continuity threats and trends that could impact food supply chains. Web-based intelligence solution like BSI’s Supply Chain Risk Exposure Evaluation Network (SCREEN) Food Module helps its users monitor and proactively manage potential supply chain exposures and provides real-time updates regarding food-related incidents, including contamination, theft, and fraud.
To avoid disruption — and even crisis — in the global food supply chain, brand owners, retailers, food manufacturers, and their partners, must adapt to meet the challenges of the risks they face throughout the supply chain so they can meet a deepening imperative — winning and keeping consumer trust. This means moving the focus from reacting to incidents to proactively managing risks throughout their supply chain.
Neil is an Industry Solutions and Supply Chain Risk Management Professional, with 20+ years’ experience in the Testing, Inspection, Certification & Standards industry who is well versed with the needs of business and global brands wishing to implement the necessary best practice standards to protect their reputation and manage risk.