Horses for courses

13 February 2013

I read a number of articles in the guardian and heard some interesting debate on the radio this week regarding the recent hoo haa of horse meat, halal containment and uncooked chicken. It's almost fashionable to be talking about it and everyone has an opinion. The vast majority of opinion is nothing new, outrage at what we may have been eating and disgust at the lies we are being sold. There is of course a way to avoid all this… don't buy ready meals. There I said it. That does make me a hypocrite as I have done exactly the same as everyone else but it is an answer, maybe not the one you were hoping for but beggars can't be choosers.

One of the alternative answers being bandied about I find quite sad and narrow minded. There has been public suggestion that claiming compensation from the retailers may be an option. Wouldn't that smack of becoming the blame society we've looked down upon for so many years? More importantly, its short sighted. If we as individuals take action such as this to the retailers, the knock on effect will be they will seek compensation from their suppliers and that opens up a game of hot potato within the entire supply chain until either the real guilty party is revealed or more likely the easiest scapegoat is paraded for all to see. So who's going to come off worst? Not the giant, faceless retailer I assure you. They will look to the entire supply chain to lay blame. From the transport company delivering to their door, the distributor consolidating their orders, the processing factory making finished goods all the way back to the humble farmer. The noise is all about France and Romania at the moment but there will be a great number of UK independent businesses involved in getting those products to your door.

The answer?

I did hear one forward thinking individual seeing the light ahead. There is a massive opportunity for UK food manufacturers to step into the breach as new suppliers to big business. As current suppliers are stricken from the list of preferred suppliers, smaller, niche manufacturers can fill that gap and support the message supermarkets are keen to announce of sustainable, locally sourced produce. What is key to being successful is making working with each other as easy as possible.

Being able to offer credible evidence of reliable, accurate service, fast turnaround and customer centric visibility of their orders from manufacture, through distribution and even advance shipment notifications. Traceability, the current watchword, will be crucial to prove material source and processes and of course the ever lurking requirement to deliver all this at reduced cost.

This all sounds like a lot of effort on the supplier, and it is. But there are tools out there to make it easier and often by surprising amounts. Technology has proven itself for a long time now in enabling analysis of what at first appears to be non-measurable. Organisations up and down supply chains recognise the benefit of having systems in place to reduce wastage in production, reduce costs or eliminate unnecessary processes in the pursuit of operating lean.

But having single 'point solutions' to address one element of your business is only going so far - the greater rewards can be found in solutions that proactively share information around the business. Field based sales having visibility of stock to make accurate client promises, planners having exact knowledge of orders, materials and run times in order to operate efficiently, buyers avoiding over stocking and drains on cashflow with accurate details of stock already held and what is required to meet current needs. Joined up systems are the great enabler of our time and the better it's done, the more business it will attract.

Andy Whitelock
Manufacturing Marketing Manager


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