The food and drink industry has been through some turbulent times over the past few years, with rising energy prices and major supply chain disruptions. Retailers are having to rethink the way they operate in order to remain competitive. As in most competitive business environments, quality is key to meeting rising customer expectations, with time, scope, and cost.
Celebrating World Quality Week
November 6th to 10th 2023 is World Quality Week – a global awareness campaign to champion quality and its profession. At AutoCoding Systems Ltd, we believe that quality is an opportunity to address government policies, help deliver better health outcomes for society and improve manufacturing efficiencies through smarter automated ways of working.
We look at how this year’s theme, realizing competitive potential, can help food manufacturers navigate through these challenging times by looking at customer expectations and process improvement in relation to packaging lines. This article is the first of a two-part series during World Quality Week, looking at events in Australia, the USA, and the UK.
Many retailers have to respond to regulatory changes. For example, the October 2023 deadline for additional labelling requirements for meat and milk goods passing through to Northern Ireland and other relevant products by July 2025¹ under the UK’s Windsor framework. Australia’s Health Star Rating (HSR) scheme, which will become mandatory if the 70% target of HSR-labelled food and drink products is not met by 2025². Or the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) uniform compliance date for all food labeling regulations, which must be met by 2026³. The industry is also challenged by the impact of changing date code requirements, with ‘use by’, ‘best by’ and ‘consume by’ dates for perishable food and drink products.
With such rapid changes in the regulatory and date code landscape, how can manufacturing quality professionals validate the correct packaging, date codes and labelling requirements against their master plan schedule? How can they build confidence with key food and drink stakeholders before packaged goods reach the market?
With packaging shortages, changing consumer trends and the rise of own-label brands, retailers are specifying different packaging needs, such as smaller snack-sized packs, on-pack messaging, and a proliferation of purpose-designed product labels. Where manufacturers produce for multiple retailers, this can be problematic and error-prone due to frequent and last-minute changes, leading to potential product recalls. In the UK for instance, more than half of the food recalls over a five-year period⁴ were related to food allergies. Notably, evolving retailer requirements was one of the top three drivers of change in a US Deloitte’s 2021⁵ survey.
With food and drink manufacturers now having to deal with various specification changes on every production run, and the expectation of further changes to come, how can quality professionals manage this change while ensuring an error-free packaging production run?
It is not uncommon for retailers to explore different manufacturers for alternative food and drink supplies to minimize the risk of supply chain disruption. Take the UK, for example, where 27% of food and drink retailers had changed their suppliers in February 2023⁶ due to disruptive pricing. Such changes indicate emerging suppliers in the market, and the opportunity for clearer supply chain visibility.
How can food and drink manufacturers increase customer value, build trust and rebuild relationships around packaging error performance? How can manufacturing quality professionals implement leaner manufacturing approaches on their packaging lines to help minimize costs?
One easy way to respond to the above questions is to increase the number of inspections and audits on the packaging line for tighter quality control. Rightly so, this would be in line with the quality management ethos, of plan, do, check, act, cycle. However, what is missing is the cultural aspect of embracing quality and delivering effective strategic change through resources and technology to adapt to time, specification, and cost.
Automated packaging verification and date coding reduces risk
Quality professionals in the food and drink industry need to stay ahead of retailer’s expectations, by using proven systems to recognize that the date coding and packaging is correct in a way that works for their factory. Implementing an automated system that can control, monitor, and deliver recipe deployment capability at the start of a job to eliminate date coding and packaging errors and reduce waste, is at the heart of what AutoCoding Systems Ltd does – we’ve implemented standard and bespoke systems on over 1500 packaging lines!
Our AutoCoding system captures specification changes, enables accurate verification of the correct code, provides label verification and automatic print inspection – in the right place and at the right time. The benefit of implementing such a system is increased customer confidence and reduced risk of product recall. Our paperless quality module can conduct appropriate prompts for auditing investigations, capturing digital readings and logs for improve data integrity. These software tools can fundamentally assist with quality control and help address documentation and auditing elements of quality assurance.
In fact, automated packaging verification and date coding is endorsed by some of the world’s leading retailers such as M&S. This is because it meets the protocols required to build confidence and detect packaging deviations right at the start. It can also help to address the labor shortages that the industry is currently facing by reducing the number of people required to carry out inspections on the packaging line.
There is no doubt that there is a vicious circle of maintaining quality, managing expectations around change specification and keeping within cost margin pressures. No one wants to lose a retail customer: software measures can certainly help bridge the gap between technology and culture by building and defining the necessary customized workflows within your factory environment.
As a software-first specialist, AutoCoding Systems can help build confidence and work with manufacturers to succeed in a highly competitive market. Our next article will focus on using quality data to drive process improvements. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to speak to a member of the AutoCoding Systems team, please contact us.
- Harry Holmes, 1 March 2023, ‘What the Windsor Framework really means for food businesses’, The Grocer, What the Windsor Framework really means for food businesses | Analysis and Features | The Grocer
- K Knight, Commonwealth of Australia, 21 September 2023, ‘Health Star Rating – Year 3 Monitoring Plan (2023)’, Health Star Rating System, Targets and intended products, monitoring plan, Health Star Rating – Targets and intended products
- FDA, 30 December 2022, ‘FDA Issues Uniform Compliance Date for Final Food Labeling Regulations’ FDA, FDA Issues Uniform Compliance Date for Final Food Labeling Regulations | FDA
- Sim Ray Yue, Rajeev Shrivastava, Katrina Campbell, Michael John Walker, 28 September 2022, ‘Food allergen recalls in the United Kingdom: A critical analysis of reported recalls from 2016 to 2021’, Queen’s University Belfast, Food allergen recalls in the United Kingdom: A critical analysis of reported recalls from 2016 to 2021 — Queen’s University Belfast (qub.ac.uk)
- Barb Renner, Kimberly Betts, Justin Cook, 26 July 2021, ‘Future of work: The state of the food industry, Figure 1. Top 3 change drivers’ Deloitte, Future of food retail and manufacturing | Deloitte Insights
- Nick Chapman, James O’Connor, 8 March 2023, ‘Recent trends in UK food and drink producer and consumer prices: January 2023, Figure 5: More than three-quarters of food and drink manufactures reported absorbing some increased costs, 6 to 19 February 2023’, Office for National Statistics, Recent trends in UK food and drink producer and consumer prices – Office for National Statistics