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Mapping supply chains

Rick Sanderson of Authenticate IS looks at trends that are driving the need for deeper transparency of food supply chains and explains how the latest technology is helping to provide assurance to food manufacturers and retailers.

There has been a great deal of change in the area of due diligence and safety management within food businesses in recent years. Procurement is now truly global, which brings additional challenges as food businesses struggle for complete transparency of their supply chains. The need for collaboration, therefore, is greater. In this new, more accountable environment, not only do procurement and technical teams have to work more closely together, people both outside and inside the organisation must work smarter to share information.

One of the big step-changes is the requirement to have deep insight and transparency throughout the supply chain. This is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but rather a prerequisite, particularly in the wake of ‘horsegate’ and with the advent of the Modern Slavery Act. While a technical manager’s role once focused on food safety within his or her own business, now it is much more about the outside world; vulnerabilities and threats may be brought into the business from third party suppliers.

Producing a TACCP or a VACCP (a threat analysis or a vulnerability assessment on suppliers) is now a key output for technical managers. This requires them to look beyond their immediate supplier base to get to the origin of where risk may lie. As well as being a growing concern for customers and necessary to achieve BRC Issue 7 accreditation, it is also useful for more effective management of any food business.

More recently, the Modern Slavery Act is a game-changer for the food industry.

Impact of Modern Slavery Act

More recently, the Modern Slavery Act is a game-changer for the food industry. All businesses with an annual turnover above £36m must publish a statement reporting on the processes and due diligence taken to make sure that their whole supply chain is slavery free. This means that everybody in the supply chain will have to be involved to help make sure the larger companies are compliant.

The question then is, if you can’t map it, can you really manage it? Then answer is, probably not. There has to be complete transparency of supply, from ‘farm to fork’ in order to make sure risks can be managed and mitigated. Indeed, many larger companies are going further and appointing a head of risk or a food defence team to identify potential food fraud or vulnerabilities in the supply chain. It is a credit to them that these issues are being taken so seriously.

Going forward, the appetite for complete supply chain mapping will continue to grow because the risks are growing. For example, businesses will need to understand their full supply chain to cope with the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act. New food information regulations around allergens and nutrition are also increasing the need for robust data.

But it is not just about managing risk. There is a real opportunity to gain some commercial advantage from mapping supply chains. We, as consumers, are hungry for provenance and, in many cases, are prepared to pay more for it. Retailers are also becoming more demanding about supply chain integrity and data. This presents an opportunity to add value by substantiating claims around provenance based on knowledge and confidence in the integrity of all ingredients and suppliers. This is not just theory; some companies win substantial contracts because they are able to show in detail their full supply chain.

Having real insight of the entire supply chain will not only help with product recalls and food compliance issues, but it may also drive more effective buying decisions. There might be some commercial advantage or leverage from knowing the chain beyond the immediate supplier.

Challenges of transparency

So how are food businesses coping with the demand for deeper transparency? Naturally, to a large extent, the response has been purely reactive with an inclination to further audit suppliers and gain more information through the traditional routes of certification schemes. This does put a great administrative burden on technical managers throughout the supply chain to capture and make sure the information is up-to-date.

Cumbersome, time consuming spreadsheets and information requests can be replaced with innovative software solutions to collaboratively share data.

Previously, a lot of effort has gone into mapping chains and providing a snapshot at a particular point in time, which rapidly becomes outdated and inaccurate given the ever-changing nature of supply chains. With the increasing demand to map supply chains beyond the traditional ‘one up, one down’, greater insight is needed, which is not static. The information must be accurate and easily accessible so that technical managers know the situation at any moment in time. Again, the development of food mapping software solves this problem by giving a dynamic system for real time analysis.

It is essential that retailers and food manufacturers have access to good quality data as soon as they need it. For example, social media mean that food scares can go viral in seconds, so retailers and, in turn, food manufacturers have to be able to swiftly provide clear, concise information that is robust and validated.

With customers asking for greater collaboration and disclosure of the full chain, there is a need for information to be provided in a secure environment; specially designed online platforms allow this type of commercially sensitive information to be safely and securely shared.

Food mapping software helps companies be smart about sharing supply chain information. It allows a great amount of detail to be collected and accessed, while saving internal time and resource. These online systems pull together all of the relevant data in a single secure environment, so technical managers can easily see the details of the entire supply chain at any moment in time.

While implementing a software system to map the entire supply chain can feel daunting and time-consuming, it rapidly becomes efficient because it allows for the constant updating of information with little additional administration. It provides a robust network, which futureproofs the company, providing the facility to ask questions, whatever new requirements or integrity issues arise.

Food mapping software helps companies be smart about sharing supply chain information.

Collaboration is key

When choosing a supply chain mapping software system, look for one which has been specifically developed for the food industry, ideally designed by people who have experience of working in the food sector.

Collaborative platforms are dynamic and can also push information to you so they are more than just a data capture system. For example, with the Authenticate IS platform, suppliers are responsible for their information and whenever they make a change, the system automatically informs the technical manager at the top of the chain. Instead of chasing and recording information from every supplier, technical managers can focus on using the information, which is a smarter way of working. A software system should not just be about gathering data, but should allow your business to gain insights that can be actioned.

Effective ‘farm to fork’ supply chain mapping is becoming imperative for doing business in the food sector today. In many cases, it is the gateway to trading in retail. Supply chain mapping is not just about providing the due diligence and safety customers demand and which make a business more robust, it is also about optimising the commercial advantages by making more informed buying decisions or adding value through reliable food provenance. For example, mapping chains could provide wider insight and help steer buying decisions when taking into account issues, such as country of origin risk or a disease outbreak.

In such a dynamic and demanding environment, time-poor food technical managers must find the most efficient way of accessing the detailed information they need. Software technology can help companies deal with the challenges of today’s food industry and enable them to swiftly adapt to the requirements of tomorrow.

Rick Sanderson, Chief commercial officer, Authenticate IS

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