It's Food Safety Week this week and the theme is 'food safety on a budget'. Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies talks to Rebecca Prescott about food traceability, safety and research for the future.
Can you explain a little more about your company and how your services can be of benefit to food and beverage businesses?
Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies: GS1 UK is a not-for-profit association funded by its 24,000 members that works with leading foodservice and beverage operators and manufacturers in the UK, including Mitchells & Butlers, Compass, Sodexo, Whitbread, Brakes, 3663, Unilever and Molson Coors.
We ensure that foodservice organisations can achieve their ultimate mission – get the right product with the right information in the right place at the right time and at the right cost – through the usage of our global supply chain standards.
With such a broad remit and real insight into the customer base, we're one of the few associations who can give an independent perspective on the big issues and trends in the foodservice industry, all the way through the supply chain to the customer.
We have assisted with improving cost savings and increasing customer satisfaction by providing the right information within the foodservice sector for the last 10 years.
With many significant issues such as sustainability, food safety, food wastage and cost savings facing the sector, accurate and timely information is becoming increasingly important. We help all sizes of businesses capture and share standardised information throughout their business to the benefits of their customers and supply chain.
Traceability is becoming more and more important to manufacturers, suppliers and even consumers. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about food and expecting to know more about origin etc. Do you think this is a growing trend, and is the food and beverage sector keeping up with the demand?
Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies: Traceability is certainly a growing trend as the demand for information from governments and consumers increases. Consumers want to know more about their food and drink, and the products they buy. They're asking questions such as, Where was it sourced?, *What ingredients does it contain?, Is the food organic?,* and Is it Fairtrade?.
It's increasingly difficult to trace food and drink from one end of a highly globalised chain to another. Our standards enable foodservice organisations to cope with consumer thirst for product information by having accurate and consistent product data. In particular, this aids those with allergies or dietary requirements.
Companies will know where products are and where they've been providing this to consumers. In addition, using the GS1 standards will enable foodservice organisations to identify and trace items in the supply chain; companies can easily recall and withdraw products.
Consumers are demanding increased food types and requiring food and beverage operators to offer a greater choice of products to consumers to cater for this need (eg gluten-free products). There is both a threat to food services as inaccurate data on a product can trigger an allergic reaction, but also a genuine sales opportunity here – for example, being able to charge more for products that can be traced to Fairtrade farms – and having the right standards in place to help track and trace products through the supply chain is key.
This trend will continue to grow as consumers become conscious and aware of these things, and the government sets up legislation to measure this safely. The GS1 UK Data Crunch Report forecasted that the demand for product information would grow by 400% in the next five years.
What research and development is going on behind the scenes that we can expect to see from the company in the near future?
Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies: We host the Food Service Directors Group (FSDG), a strategic industry network working together to achieve a common approach to overcoming key sector issues and challenges. Membership is currently contained to the 10 largest companies within the sector, and we're undergoing research to look at the way information is gathered and shared in the supply chain.
It seems the growing food intolerance/allergy industry would really benefit from your services. Are you finding a certain type of business is approaching you more than others?
Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies: According to Allergy UK, 45% of the UK suffers from allergies and this number is rising by 5% each year. This directly influences consumer demand for product information and puts businesses under pressure to ensure that they provide the correct details, particularly as consumers are increasingly pursuing legal action when mistakes are made.
We've seen an influx of small foodservice and beverage businesses looking for our help to get up to speed and to meet basic legal requirements around this issue, while large foodservice operators are looking to future-proof their current solutions.
We've been helping both by introducing them to our TrueSource solution, which helps businesses to enter, manage, store master product data in one place to share directly with trading partners, thus ensuring that the correct product information is fed through the supply chain and ends up in the consumer's hands.
Do you believe food product safety has improved or declined in recent years, and how can your company help?
Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies: Food product safety has increased because people have demanded it. The recent salmonella outbreak linked to watermelons is another worrying case in a long line of product recall related health scare stories – Spanish cucumbers with E. coli and Loyd Grossman curry sauce infected with botulism being other recent examples.
Due to globalisation, it's becoming increasingly difficult for foodservice operators, catering companies and manufacturers to trace food from one end of a highly globalised food chain to another. Not only does this pose a serious risk to consumers when something goes wrong, but it means that businesses involved face the chance of being held legally responsible for the outcome.
We're working with businesses to implement global standards and systems to protect consumers and suppliers. We provide independent expertise, data standards and traceability systems to help suppliers locate the source of the problem, understand what ingredients or parts were used in every batch of the products being recalled, and where these batches were delivered to.
It also allows you to see which individuals bought the affected products, so they can specifically contact them regarding these items, which is significantly cheaper and more accurate than recalling the whole range.
More importantly, these traceability systems improve quality assurance and inventory control, reducing the risk of product recalls.
Lastly, food waste management is also a growing issue. Our standards help organisations manage waste by promoting efficiency and improving visibility through leaner supply chains and tighter management of supply and demand.
Andrew Stinchcombe-Gillies is head of industry development, foodservice, GS1 UK.
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