The Broader Context
Consumers are increasingly aware of the origin of the food they purchase and consume. And there is growing demand among the public for greater transparency on food safety and quality, reducing concerns about what they buy and eat. The advent of social media and mobile communication means that issues can gain huge publicity in a very short time. This can impact both us and our customers.
At LW/M, it is vital that we show our customers that they are always number one by giving them peace of mind. This means not only focusing on guaranteeing food safety and delivering consistent quality, but also ensuring that our products are correctly labelled; that we address any issues swiftly and effectively, and learn from them; and that we work with our customers to ease consumers’ concerns.
Our 2020 objective is to continue to improve the consistency of our product quality, thus meeting the specific requirements and the implicit expectations of our customers. Food safety always comes first.
2018 Results versus 2008 baseline
- 94% First Time Right production, a 4% improvement
- 85% of third party audits scored ≥95% or A-grade, a 13% improvement
- We reduced our product quality complaints (index) by 6%
- We have had zero public product recalls since 1994
Key Results 2017 – 2018
Development of QA strategy 2020
Over the last two years we continued to work towards our corporate quality assurance (QA) strategy for 2020, which we first outlined in our previous report. The vision of this strategy is that we will deliver ‘Best in Class Products & Services’ and create peace of mind for all our customers worldwide.
This means that we guarantee to deliver consistent product quality to our customers and provide proactive services which will exceed their expectations.
We will bring ‘peace of mind’ to our customers by building trust with them, acting as a partner to their business, while being transparent and providing traceability along the entire supply chain (from field to fork). We believe that this enables us to stay ahead of the competition by being a preferred partner. To achieve this, we are focusing on six key areas. The progress we made in these areas is outlined below.
‘The foreign material reduction program was initiated for one simple reason: As a preferred supplier, we want to deliver a consistently high-quality product to our customers, in which foreign material is unacceptable. Our goal is to have zero foreign material contamination. In the plant in Bergen op Zoom we focused on creating awareness on the effects of foreign material contamination among all the members of our team. We also we gave all area owners the responsibility to prevent foreign material contamination in their area. Although we still see possibilities for further improvement, we have made a huge step forward in creating awareness among our people, and have already noticed a reduction in foreign material complaints.’
LW/M Bergen op Zoom
Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands
Our goal remains to be ready for the future, while supporting the growth of the business. In the period 2016 – 2018 this involved further developing the corporate quality department. We achieved this in a number of ways.
- We hired talent to bolster the team’s skill set, with around 40% of the department new since we published the last report.
- We introduced staff learning programs to update staff on our key processes.
- We moved regulatory affairs back into Corporate QA, to create more synergy between regulatory affairs, food & feed safety, product labelling and quality. We also appointed a dedicated regulatory affairs manager to ensure compliance and manage ever-changing regulations covering Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Brazil.
- Finally, we further developed our relationship with the Lamb Weston Inc. organisation in the United States, aligning with their Corporate QA team. For example, we introduced an annual QA symposium where we share best practices and experiences to learn from one another.
Safeguard food safety and quality performance
Over the reporting period we began a number of QA projects. These include:
- A sensory project. The aim is to better assess our products from a sensory perspective, based on our customers’ requirements. We are training a sensory panel to judge products critically, using common language used by our customers. This will help us better interpret our customers’ needs.
- Foreign material prevention programme. Our target is zero foreign materials in our end products. To achieve this, we are continuing to concentrate on Prevention, Awareness, and Reduction. This involves working to prevent foreign materials from entering our processes, as this reduces the risk of them ending up in the finished product; making suppliers aware of the need to reduce foreign material contamination; and reducing the risk of foreign materials from reaching our finished product, for example through the use of optical sorters.
Focus on food safety and quality systems and methods
During the period under review, we moved our food safety risk methodology to the UK Campden BRI system and streamlined systems across our plants. The main advantage is that we now use common food safety language that is clear to our customers.
One emerging issue that has the potential to affect all food manufacturers is food fraud. We have set up a new risk assessment system to manage our supply chain risk, which will help prevent this from happening. We have identified a number of ingredients that could be a risk, and are taking steps to manage them carefully. One example is the oil we purchase to fry our potato products. We introduced additional checks on our parfry oil to ensure we receive the oil we pay for, and that it doesn’t contain anything that could harm us or our customers.
Lead in food safety and quality improvements
We have begun working on an Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) programme, which looks at quality consistency from our customers’ perspective. The goal is to make products that are of a standardised quality level throughout the year, based on length, texture, and crispiness.
This remains a challenge, as we use natural raw materials, potatoes, that are harvested only once a year, before being stored and used. The programme looks at a number of changing parameters, which enable us to give feedback to the potato department and production units. The first results are promising, with an increased percentage produced at AQL. We will continue to work to refine the programme going forward.
We have developed partnerships from two angles over the reporting period.
- First, we leverage partnerships with our customers, maintaining and reviewing quality standards and ensuring that our products reach the consumer in the best condition possible.
- Second, we work closely with suppliers and co-manufacturers along the supply chain to translate customer requirements into product specifications. This is an ongoing challenge, as our customer needs change frequently. To better manage this, we have increased customer contact points and the way we work with our customers.
Act as a centre of excellence for food safety and quality
We have taken a number of steps in this area.
- First, we have increased our knowledge about allergens and adapted the way we measure and work with them. The shift to the Campden BRI system helped us improve in this area.
- Second, in 2018 the EU introduced final legislation to limit the formation of acrylamide in certain foods, giving clear guidance for manufacturers and professional end-users on how to control acrylamide levels in final (cooked) food products. Over the past few years we have translated these requirements into more accurate guidelines on how to manage the storage of potatoes, and their processing into parfried (semi-)finished products. We also amended our cooking instructions, when we revised our packaging to meet the new EU Labeling Regulation (EU 1169). And we advise our customers on the importance of closely following the cooking instructions on our packaging to limit the formation of acrylamide, and to cook to (light) golden yellow rather than golden brown.
Since 2008, we have consistently reduced the number of allergens in our frozen seasoned products. Today, only a limited number of our seasoned products contain gluten. All of our plain, Private Reserve and Stealth fries are glutenfree by design, as potatoes are allergen free by nature.
In the period under review, we looked at product recipes of our seasoned frozen products and our ability to prevent cross-contamination in our production environment. This led to validated gluten-free environments across all our production plants.
Top score audits
We are subject to three types of audit: management system certification audits, customer audits, and internal audits. The total number of third party audits and the number of unannounced audits both increased over the reporting period. In FY2017 we went through 69 external audits in five plants, while in FY2018 we had 79 audits across our six plants.
One reason for this is that customers are looking more carefully at the supply chain of foods that end up in their products, menus, restaurants and supermarkets, to better manage their own food safety risks. For example, they want to know in greater detail where a product comes from, how (much) it is processed, and which ingredients (and where) are added to the product they purchase. Working with our preferred suppliers, we have put a number of steps in place to increase our supply chain knowledge and transparency.
Food Safety & Quality regulations
Understanding the regulations and standards set at national and international levels is vital to our business. Between 2016 - 2018, we further increased the number of countries to which we export our products.
This means understanding the regulatory requirements of a number of new countries, which can have an impact on our products and how we have to label them. We began working more intensively with local experts to gain relevant insights into how these requirements work. We also studied in greater detail the impact that legislation introduced by the EU on acrylamide levels in food products would have on us and our customers.
Sustainable Manufacturing Synergy
We previously reported on the introduction of a Model Predictive Control (MPC) system at most of our plants. This has been further optimised, and is the standard for new plants. The MPC acts as an ‘automatic pilot’ for our production lines, adjusting settings to optimise the process and removing subjective operator influence.
In addition to this, we are working on introducing fully automated processes to production line equipment, which measures important quality attributes of our products and provides more representative, direct feedback to help us improve product quality. This will also help us to further reduce food loss and waste.
Standardised HACCP system
HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) is an internationally recognised, well-established food safety management system, which focuses on prevention of issues rather than relying on end-product testing. During the reporting period, we strengthened our corporate HACCP system based on the methodology and guidelines developed by Campden BRI. This will introduce further standardization across all our European plants and make it easier to implement changes across the company.
Outlook for 2019/2020
Looking ahead, we have a number of key focus areas over the coming two years. These are:
- The sensory project, a tool in helping us speak the same language as our customers, enabling us to provide them with products they want and the end consumer prefers. We aim to improve on adding value to their business.
- We aim to upgrade our IT systems, making us more effective and efficient going forward.
- We will concentrate on making use of developments in technology to better control our processes, with the aim of being more cost effective, producing higher quality products, while reducing food loss and waste.
- We want to even better understand our raw product, the potato, so that we can use it more effectively in our processes. This will cut food loss and waste and increase product quality consistency.
Today, our customers cook and sell their products at several moments of the day, which is more frequently than they used to. But what is really important to them? The texture of the cooked product? The length of time the food stays warm? Or all of these, and if so in what order of importance?
One of our key challenges is satisfying our customers as their needs change. We believe that customer intimacy is key to making this happen. We need to spend more time with our customers, to better listen to them so that we clearly understand what they really want or need.
For customers, quality extends beyond product quality alone. It also encompasses the quality of the packaging, delivery, services and solutions. Our challenge is to ensure we can maintain high quality levels consistently, while continuing to adapt quickly to customers fast-changing needs.