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Following the lasagne back to the barn
Following the lasagne back to the barn
News Feb 27, 2013

Customers need to know their trust in the brands they buy is not only respected, but justified. The solution is in the supply chain.

As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.

With the list of companies affected by the horsemeat scandal growing by the day, and many consumers still reeling at the thought of eating what they consider akin to the family pet, it’s time to stop it from happening again.

There is something significantly wrong with the way retailers and food companies are responding to the presence of horse DNA in the food they have been selling as beef. They are missing the point. The horsemeat scandal is merely a symptom of a massive problem that must be brought to the surface – there is no transparency in many of the supply chains that bring food to market.

A company will not reassure the public by describing the scrubbing of factories or testing of food products. No one has yet explained how horsemeat entered the supply chain in the first place. Unless the companies themselves start to ask questions, consumers can expect horse and more served up for years to come.

Few retail and food company buyers ever look beyond the first or second tiers of their supply chains for the products that go into what consumers in Europe eat, wear on their feet, or rub into their sun-damaged skin.

Yes, complicated and multiple supply chains pose a challenge to transparency, but any breach of quality will damage a company’s brand, so managers must be able to trace the origins of every ingredient. At risk is both reputation and market share, not to mention the health and cultural concerns of those consuming the products.

Any supply chain is underpinned by relationships and costs, and should be governed by transparency. Food companies and retailers must ensure the values they instil in their own staff are shared throughout the supply chain.

Instead, decisions often are dictated by the bottom line; and the status quo – how products are sourced and processed—is rarely challenged.

Cost appears to be the main driver in ‘Horsegate’ – perhaps Romanian ponies are cheaper than prime British beef cuts, but at the end of the day, someone has made the purchasing decision without looking closely at what they are buying. And no doubt they too are under pressure to deliver more for less.

Image:©Schot/Cagle Supermarkets and food companies have the power to change this. They need to think beyond the fact that something costs a little more and think what delivering this quality to the customer means. They should use this to innovate, to create opportunities to build closer relationships with customers, and to share with customers the story of their products.

Despite the growing list of companies affected by Horsegate, there are others in the food industry with a good transparent supply chain in place. It is now possible, for example, to use radio frequency ear tags and bar codes that allow manufacturers to track any piece of beef back to its origins. The information records a cow’s life history, including medications given, the day it entered the abattoir and the day it was slaughtered.

That’s transparency.

Food companies and retailers struggling to understand what real transparency looks like could learn from examples set by other industries. The timber company that has embedded its core values into the standards it requires suppliers to meet, mapping out its supply chain so it can identify environmental and social risks. Another company that sells kitchen cabinets can follow the wood it uses back to the stump it came from.

That’s transparency.

What do consumers want when they buy a pack of beef lasagne at the supermarket? They may want to avoid being ‘grossed out’ for having eaten horse. But they also want to know that whatever they have selected from the supermarket shelf that day matches what it says on the pack.

Customers need to know their trust in the brands they buy is not only respected, but justified. The solution is in the supply chain. It’s a question of following it back and getting to know the people at the other end very, very well.

Related News:

Areas of work:
Healthy forests

Products:
Palm oil

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