Expert Opinion: The Weakest Link – Risks in the food and drink supply chain

By Gary Clifton, NFU Mutual Agent

Recent events have brought back into sharp focus the question of confidence in the UK’s food supply chain. With c30% of our imports sourced from the EU (DEFRA, Oct. 2018), recent debate surrounding alternative deals with US manufacturers that operate to different quality standards is one recent source of uncertainty.

Whilst confidence is going to be a challenge, consumer demands and attention to detail regarding the source and content of food continue to increase. For instance, it is estimated as many as 20% of the UK population experience some form of food hypersensitivity (BDA, May 2018). Customers need more and more information from their food providers, clearly communicated.

Issues in the food & drink sector like this mean we will still be looking closely at where our food comes from and what’s on our forks for the foreseeable future.

This places a huge responsibility on everyone within the industry. From certainty over the content claims of the supply chain, to hygiene controls, to labelling. Current consumer awareness and scrutiny means a business cannot afford to get it wrong. Recent high profile examples of the very worst consequences from simple labelling errors should serve as reminder to us all.

Due diligence is crucial: a supplier that invests in employee education programmes and operating its own food defence strategies may be better equipped to combat food fraud and minimise product errors.

Even the most developed food standards systems have scope for errors though. With an increasingly demanding and connected customer base, managing reputation and cost in the event that something does go wrong is vital. Businesses can take practical steps though:

  • Regularly review your own Product Recall Insurance policy, and ensure your suppliers have their own
  • Develop, document and test your crisis management plan
  • Monitor, investigate and respond to customer complaints, particularly on social media where criticism can escalate quickly
  • Consider professional PR support
  • Understand your supply chain up and down: make sure you can trace the source of problems and can communicate and resolve issues quickly
  • Your insurer should be notified in case there may be a claim.

To find out more talk to us at NFU Mutual Preston agency on 01772 735798.

Agent of the National Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Society Limited.