Could horsemeat contamination have been prevented? It is clear that food retail and processing companies have little control over their suppliers to allow it to happen and consequently we can expect more bad news about our processed food.
Total control of the supply chain is impossible given the global nature of commerce today but better information on the supplier community would have made the scandal much less likely.
Turnoak used a blend of interim management and consultancy in a fashion retailer where adverse press comments for using underage workers had potential to serious damage their reputation on the high street and the administrative effort and complexity of ethical compliance was increasing. The work was undertaken in stages to provide an extranet – a closed internet based system, private to our client and their suppliers – to capture information on how ethical the suppliers and their factories were being. Of course much more data was collected but it was the ethical trading elements that drove the development.
We used an expert Supplier Collaboration Consultant to define the scope of the extranet, the information that needed to be collected from the supply chain and at what levels, what interaction with existing systems was needed and the timescales for and costs of development. Then we used an Interim IT Manager who managed the selection of vendors of suitable extranet products by guiding client management through the decision making process whilst ensuring technical feasibility and compliance. Finally, an interim Change Manager established a trial and then managed the implementation of the system, including providing training at the retailer and suppliers to ease the effort and pain of change. Continuity was maintained by keeping the consultant involved throughout.
Whilst not foolproof, the new system provides vital information on the ethical stance of suppliers and, moreover, will be able to prove to the public and authorities that every effort has been made to ensure compliance to stipulated standards. This was achieved by blending interim management with consultancy from a single source. Meanwhile, the food industry seems to have been blending horsemeat.
A similar strategic extranet development in food retail and processing companies could have forewarned of potential disasters, especially as their supply chains are complex and multi-levelled. Prevention is always better than cure and any manufacturer will say that quality comes from capturing information in the process and not measuring it afterwards. DNA tests in the UK are too late!