Survey finds work to be done on quality assurance

A recent US survey by leading consumer driven optimisation company RedPrairie has revealed that 63% feel their current Quality Assurance (QA) and recall processes were only “somewhat effective,” with communication gaps prevalent at store-level.

The 2007 Survey on QA and Recall Technology for Food & Beverage Companies found speed of recall was chosen as the top challenge confronting food companies with 39% of respondents feeling the biggest recall communication gap occurs at the store-level.

Recent high-profile recalls for beef, toys, spinach, peanut butter, and pet foods have raised public

consciousness about the safety of food and other consumer products.

The food & beverage industry is constantly focused on preventing recalls while working to ameliorate the operational challenges of handling recalls—namely, locating the impacted products and quickly and accurately pulling them from the store shelf.

Food & beverage companies have particularly complex supply chains. In the peanut butter example,

several entities were involved—the raw materials supplier, the factory, the stores, and the trucking

company who delivered it.

Each of these entities must have accurate records of which batches, usually referred to by lot number, they handled and what the disposition of each batch was. These sources of data then must be linked together to follow the trail of the bad ingredient batches from production through to the store shelves.

Only 22% of The RedPrairie survey respondents felt their current QA and recall processes were extremely effective. 63%, the majority of participants, felt their processes were somewhat effective, which is consistent with RedPrairie industry findings.

While food & beverage companies may have strong QA and recall processes in some areas of their supply chain, they likely don’t have the centralized database that provides visibility to all the touch points of the supply chain — including all suppliers and stores.

More prominently, most food & beverage manufacturers don’t have a clear assurance from stores that all impacted products have been pulled from the shelf.

When asked, “What are the biggest challenges confronting U.S.-based food companies in regards to recalls,” speed of recall received the highest response rate with 22% of respondents choosing it as a top concern.

When the health and safety of consumers is at stake, it is no surprise that food & beverage companies want impacted products pulled as quickly as possible.

44% cited their products can be pulled off the store shelf in a matter of days, while just over 7% indicated they have the capability to pull their products from the shelf in a matter of minutes.

12% don’t have a sense of how long it would take to pull all their items from the store shelf—which again, may indicate a lack of visibility and control across the extended supply chain.

Improving recalls at the store In looking at the entire supply chain, food & beverage companies believe the biggest recall communication gap occurs at the store with 39% citing grocers/retailers as their primary concern. While third-party logistics and pre-manufacturing suppliers also received significant response rates, linkage of recall processes and technology to the store is the biggest opportunity for improvement.

In fact, 63% of respondents indicated they would like recall technology linked to POS interfaces at stores.

Again, these results are consistent with what RedPrairie see with many food retailers and grocers.

Instead of phone calls, faxes, and e-mails to stores that may never get acted upon or acknowledged, headquarters needs the ability to systematically assign recall tasks to store and department managers, who then schedule works to complete the tasks and report compliance back to headquarters.

While concern over safety of Chinese manufactured goods has dominated the recent press coverage on recalls, respondents to this survey had a mixed opinion on the safety of food and ingredients produced outside their home country.

52% indicated the safety of non-native produced food items as excellent, very good, or good, while 39% indicated it was not good, and 10% claimed they had “no visibility” into the safety of non-native food items.

Only 34% of companies have changed their recall processes in response to the recent rash of recalls. 32% have changed their recall technology in the past few months. The survey found a wide range of technologies being used to manage and execute a recall.

“These results are consistent with what we see with many food retailers and grocers,” says Tom Kozenski, VP of Product Strategy at RedPrairie.

“Automation is the only way to really verify if recalled products have been pulled from the shelves in an efficient, accurate and timely manner.”

“While there is work to be done to improve the management and execution of recalls in this country, the processes and technology exist to create a seamless communication flow throughout the food & beverage supply chain.”

About the respondents

RedPrairie surveyed subscribers of US based Food Logistics Companies ranged in size from just under $500 million to over $10 billion in annual revenues. The 43 respondents came from various departments/areas within the food & beverage industry including (in order of number of respondents): general management, supply chain/logistics, Operations, Quality Assurance, and IT.

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