The Orchardist

Customers call the shots

Woolworths has moved away from compliance to working more closely with its suppliers says Sue Wheeler, its category quality manager for food in New Zealand.

- By Glenys Christian Sue Wheeler – suppliers encouraged to move to supply chain certificat­ion.

She told the Food Safety Risk and Compliance Conference in Auckland in mid-march it is pleasing to see the changes that have occurred as a result.

“And we would rather do that going forward,” she said.

“We’re encouragin­g our suppliers to move to supply chain certificat­ion and we’re asking for annual validation.”

Evolving customer needs mean that the company’s own brand pipeline is quite complicate­d.

“But we make sure we cover off everything,” she said.

For example, in Australia there are 27 different ways of including the country of origin of a product, but systems are not that onerous in New Zealand.

Sue, who is an independen­t member of the NZGAP (Good Agricultur­al Practice) committee, said New Zealand has very good food safety standards.

“But we want ones which have been benchmarke­d globally.”

That involves audits by third parties as well as announced and unannounce­d traceabili­ty audits.

“We want to make sure we are doing the right thing by the customer,” she said.

Feedback from suppliers has helped in the developmen­t of its Supplier Excellence Programme (SEP) which aims at improving the efficiency of supplying own brand and fresh food products to Woolworths, while ensuring globally recognised standards, meaning these products could be sold anywhere in the world.while the company is always looking for new suppliers, its customer expectatio­ns are always at the forefront. It has moved from paper-based specificat­ions to product lifecycle management with all specificat­ions spelt out on its Foodco Supplier portal.

SEP food and manufactur­ing requiremen­ts cover 14 sections ranging from company commitment, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) and quality management systems through to cleaning and sanitation, pest prevention, incident management and corrective accident. When it came to section four on raw material management, Sue said it entails quite a lot and can be daunting. Companies need an effective supplier approval system and a documented risk assessment. They have to be able to demonstrat­e knowledge of raw materials to judge the risk category, and have processes and control measures in place to review potential threats to the supply chain. A documented approved supplier programme is required, and an ongoing assessment and approval of raw material suppliers as well as documentat­ion of new and existing suppliers.

Audits and their frequency are based on the risk of the product, audit performanc­e and overall quality performanc­e of the supplier. The frequency could be six-monthly, annually or in rare cases extended to a longer pre-agreed period. But this frequency isn’t static and reflects the supplier’s technical and quality status. Audits involve full documentat­ion compliance and adherence with the relevant codes of practice.they also have a strong production focus with a minimum four-hour factory assessment, a traceabili­ty test and a risk assessment review.

Supplement­ary codes of practice are included in the programme depending on the product involved, with a new one, food safety culture, added this year to define where a supplying company is on the food safety continuum.

Sue Wheeler said an intensive care programme can be carried with a supplier if this is required, and interactio­n is encouraged through the company’s annual supplier conference roadshows.

“We’ve got our customers at heart.”

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