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When Nestlé first became fully engaged with GFSI in 2012, I was its freshly-appointed Global Head of Quality Management, eager to learn and gather insights into how other companies manage food safety. My first GFSI conference exposed me not only to the creativity and technological innovations I anticipated, but also to the inclusive, open-source spirit that defines GFSI.

Since that first year, Nestlé has incorporated several elements from GFSI into its own quality management system, including the recognition of suppliers’ GFSI-benchmarked certification and the incorporation of the GFSI Global Markets Programme into the existing supplier capability building programs. Being a major contributor to the development of PAS 220, we had already required FSSC 22000 certification for all of our own manufacturing sites. My interactions with food safety managers from other companies facing similar challenges illustrated the non-competitive attitude that drives this collaborative initiative. I invite you to take my experience as a case study on the benefits that manufacturers can gain by attending the GFSI Conference.

Food safety culture and the Global Markets Programme

Food safety culture is a central topic on the agenda of the GFSI Conference, and one which interests me deeply. As a multinational manufacturer with enormous global reach, selling 1.3 billion products each day, Nestlé has no leeway to take food safety culture for granted. We work directly with more than 10,000 tier-1 raw material and packaging suppliers to create a comprehensive range of food and beverages that are sold in 189 countries, and we have the responsibility to ensure that there is the required level of food safety awareness through every link in this complex value chain. In our upstream value chain, we rely on our suppliers and their suppliers to implement food safety measures while producing the materials and ingredients that we use. The downstream value chain is equally important; some products can be sensitive to temperature and other factors as they travel from our manufacturing facilities to reach our consumers, so having the right relationship and building the food safety awareness of our distributors and retailers is critical.

Even before joining GFSI, Nestlé had its own internal programmes for establishing food safety capability building along our value chain, which involve many small and medium sized local enterprises. It was at the GFSI Conference that I first learned about the Global Markets Programme, a stepwise food safety capability building path towards “GFSI certification” (certification to a GFSI-recognised certification programme). I immediately recognised this as a potential complement to our existing systems with the benefit of providing the clear goal of GFSI certification. Today, we have incorporated the Global Markets Programme within our supplier food safety development activities in several markets.

The success of the Global Markets Programme at Nestlé is evidenced by our suppliers’ performance in the GFSI Awards, sponsored by greenfence, which is a recognition for suppliers leveraging the programme. The winners have been announced annually at the GFSI Conference since 2017, and last year companies that supply Nestlé were highly prominent; the Nigerian cacao processing company Plantation Industries Limited took the overall award, and the Mexican cacao, coffee and allspice supplier Asociaciones Agroindustriales Serranas won in the Latin America category. Both companies had the opportunity to send delegates to the conference in Tokyo last year, and they will join the stage again via two new episodes of the GFSI web series that will premier in Nice in February. Another Nestlé supplier, a berry supplier in Morocco, will be highlighted in a video case study to be presented during the plenary on food safety culture during the 2019 GFSI Conference. Nestlé is honoured to have played a role in food safety capability building in these companies and to contribute in their path towards full GFSI certification.

Collaboration, not competition

Nestlé’s adoption of the Global Markets Programme and the GFSI certification approach reflects the non-competitive, knowledge-sharing ethos that GFSI inspired us to incorporate into our food safety management practices. While the capability building and auditing systems we used previously were effective, they were exclusive; suppliers could not always use them to demonstrate the compliance of their food safety practices to other manufacturers. Now, if a company who has previously worked with Nestlé wants to supply another manufacturer, they can show the steps they have taken using the Global Markets Programme towards certification and continue to work in the same direction with the new partner. This is one of the many ways GFSI helps the food industry share knowledge and ways of working in pursuit of the same goal: safe food for consumers everywhere.

The collaborative quality of GFSI manifests nowhere more than at the conference, where a community of manufacturers, retailers, suppliers and other stakeholders comes together around the goal of improved food safety for everyone. Manufacturers in particular will make a strong showing this year: two CEOs from manufacturing companies — Dirk Van de Put of Mondelez and Emmanuel Faber of Danone — will kick off the conference with their thoughts on emerging challenges which can impact food safety, such as plastics, allergens and food fraud. However, I encourage manufacturers to mingle with delegates outside of their sector, including regulators, technologists, service providers and many others. There is no better opportunity to make genuine connections with the different corners of the food safety field.

Of course, competition is part of a manufacturer’s modus operandi; we want to produce the best food, reach the most markets and satisfy the broadest range of consumers. Even as we collaborate non-competitively to improve the safety of the world’s food supply, it is important to remember that the GFSI approach can help manufacturers to sharpen their competitive edge. By leveraging GFSI, we can cut the time and money spent on superfluous audits, reduce the total cost of materials, provide more confidence in suppliers through certification and thereby enjoy more flexibility in sourcing by building a wider potential supplier base.

Learn how your own company can grow with GFSI at the conference this February. You might discover something explosive enough to spark a food safety revolution in your own corner of the industry.

This post was written and contributed by:

Anthony Huggett
Vice President Quality Management
Nestlé, Switzerland
Member of the GFSI Board of Directors
Member of the 2019 GFSI Conference Committee

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