With the ever increasing demand for suppliers to cut costs, there is no incentive to go above and beyond what is legally required when sourcing ingredients. If a supplier is provided with the appropriate certificates or other documentation that an ingredient is beef – why would they dispute it?

On-site inspections of ingredients at manufacturing sites are clearly not enough. Inspections are often announced and planned several weeks or months in advance – any abattoir or supplier who is working outside the guidelines or requirements will be able to prepare for those visits and ensure that the inspection criteria is met.

Should a retailer or a branded supplier track back every ingredient in their products, or should they be able to put trust in the suppliers they work with? The industry does have stringent food safety measures in place already. However, the scale of the availability of horse meat in some of the products shows that this is more than just one or two suppliers trying to get away with it, but a much more organised practice which has clearly been going on for years.

Independent product sampling is the practice of purchasing products from retail/trade channels direct from shelf to send for laboratory testing – is one of the only ways to ensure that the product consumers are buying contains exactly what it says on the tin.

Assosia purchases thousands of food and drink products from around the world monthly to send for laboratory testing. Unfortunately our experience shows that this practice is much more favoured by branded manufacturers. Do they have a greater sense of protecting their brand integrity – or is it that own label suppliers can hide behind the retailer’s name?

The biggest question, other than who is to blame, is who is going to pay? The cost of independent sampling needs to be met if the industry is going to be able to convince consumers that they are dealing with the crisis. Consumers will undoubtedly have to foot the bill at the end of the day, but when it comes to even a basic quality standard, it’s clear that this is something the industry needs to implement. Real solutions are available right now and they need to be implemented.

Kay Staniland is managing director of retail monitoring/quality assurance firm Assosia

Published in Retail Week, 12 February 2013



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