Dis­tiller Wu­liangye: Science and testing aid an­cient process

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS COMPANIES - By YANG FEIYUE yangfeiyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The liquor brand Wu­liangye has be­come a house­hold name in China for the unique taste of its prod­ucts based on cen­turies-old tech­niques.

But at its sprawl­ing fa­cil­ity in Yibin, Sichuan prov­ince, Wu­liangye Group has also de­vel­oped a mod­ern ap­proach to the process us­ing a qual­ity con­trol sys­tem that won global recog­ni­tion over the past three decades.

The com­pany said its com­pre­hen­sive qual­ity man­age­ment has played a cru­cial role in en­sur­ing the liquor’s su­pe­rior taste.

Back in the early 1980s, Wu­liangye be­gan com­pre­hen­sive qual­ity man­age­ment and de­vel­oped a con­trol sys­tem in 1985 that cov­ers the whole pro­cesses from raw ma­te­ri­als and pro­duc­tion to sales, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

Wu­liangye re­ceived China’s very first prod­uct qual­ity cer­tifi­cate in 1988.

In 1994, the dis­tiller passed checks by France’s BVQI, a global leader in testing, in­spec­tion and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ser­vices, and won an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized cer­tifi­cate for the first time.

In 2005, the com­pany started to im­ple­ment its own liquor qual­ity and safety cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

In 2007, it passed the Haz­ard Anal­y­sis Crit­i­cal Con­trol Point — or HACCP —cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, whose pur­pose is to iden­tify and man­age haz­ards in the food in­dus­try and re­duce the risks of con­tam­i­na­tion.

“Un­der the re­quire­ment of the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the raw ma­te­ri­als — five kinds of grains — and even the wa­ter used for dis­till­ing will go through repet­i­tive and rig­or­ous tests,” said Chen Hongkun, an en­gi­neer at Wu­liangye’s qual­ity con­trol depart­ment.

He said not only the ba­sic ingredients but also ac­ces­sories for pro­duc­tion are tested and pro­cessed ac­cord­ing to the strictest stan­dards.

For in­stance, “it’s nec­es­sary to soak the pack­ag­ing ma­te­ri­als in spe­cial so­lu­tions for seven con­sec­u­tive days and test the sub­stance in the so­lu­tions be­fore they are sent to the pack­ag­ing plant”, Chen said.

Crit­i­cal con­trol point

He said that the pur­chas­ing depart­ment is a crit­i­cal con­trol point at the group with a strong su­per­vi­sion team to look af­ter the en­tire sup­ply chain.

Ev­ery year, the com­pany eval­u­ates its sup­pli­ers and ev­ery batch of raw ma­te­ri­als is tested right be­fore be­ing put into use.

“We’re very de­mand­ing in pur­chas­ing, and it’s com­mon for us to re­turn goods that fail to meet our re­quire­ments,” said Peng Zhifu, deputy gen­eral man­ager of Wu­liangye Group.

The re­jec­tions help ham­mer home the im­por­tance of qual­ity to the whole in­dus­trial chain and con­tin­ued im­prove­ments in over­all qual­ity man­age­ment, Peng said.

In ad­di­tion to in­spec­tion of raw ma­te­ri­als, the com­pany also pays spe­cial at­ten­tion to wa­ter qual­ity.

He said the clean lo­cal wa­ter is indis­pens­able to Wu­liangye’s suc­cess. Its wa­ter in­spec­tion depart­ment keeps an eye on the source around the clock and sam­ples the wa­ter ev­ery two hours. Wa­ter used at ev­ery crit­i­cal con­trol point in the whole pro­duc­tion process is then tested.

“There are more than 100 test items and at the mo­ment we’re con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing the num­ber to 300 or 400,” said Chen Hongkun.

He added that ev­ery bar­rel of liquor is sub­jected to an over­all test be­fore de­liv­ery.

He said a great num­ber of in­no­va­tive testing tech­niques, tech­nolo­gies and in­stru­ments have been used for qual­ity con­trol.

“Our qual­ity test lab is among the most ad­vanced in China, and at the mo­ment we’re ap­ply­ing for es­tab­lish­ing a na­tional qual­ity testing cen­ter,” said Chen.

In 2011, the lab was ac­cred­ited by the China Na­tional Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Ser­vice for Con­form­ity Assess­ment, an au­thor­i­ta­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion re­spon­si­ble for cer­ti­fi­cat­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries and in­spec­tion bod­ies.

The lab boasts more than 580 types of ad­vanced testing equip­ment, in­clud­ing more than 60 large- scale mod­ern anal­y­sis in­stru­ments such as an atomic ab­sorp­tion spec­trom­e­ter, ion, gas and liq­uid chro­matographs and an au­to­matic strain de­tec­tor.

Wu­liangye’s tech­ni­cal per­son­nel of­fer sup­port to other na­tional re­search in­sti­tu­tions, higher learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions and com­pa­nies to help them im­prove qual­ity and in­no­va­tion, said Deputy Gen­eral Man­ager Peng.

At present, there are more than 2,000 tech­ni­cal per­son­nel at Wu­liangye, in­clud­ing five well-known dis­till­ing masters and dozens of ex­pe­ri­enced liquor tasters.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Re­searchers and liquor tasters work to­gether for prod­uct qual­ity as­sur­ance and im­prove­ment.

Us­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment, Wu­liangye’s lab is among the most ad­vanced in the in­dus­try.

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