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As a member of the conference committee for GFSI 2019, I’ve had the honour of being part of a passionate, dedicated group representing every corner of the food industry. From the conversations with this group, I have an insider’s view on the many benefits that my own corner of the industry — retail — can gain by joining the conference. I’m looking forward to connecting with my global counterparts to discuss challenges emerging in our field and innovations that are meeting these challenges, as well as networking with stakeholders well beyond my home base. It’s these international, industry-spanning connections that make the GFSI Conference a truly indispensable event for everyone involved in keeping food safe.

Share innovations with retailers around the globe

Although the retailers involved in GFSI operate in different parts of the world, we have common challenges. The GFSI Conference provides a unique opportunity for retailers to consider these challenges and to share innovations and solutions in a collaborative forum. At Sainsbury’s, for example, we’re addressing rising concerns about allergens with an online app that allows consumers with dietary requirements to find products that meet their needs by highlighting anything unsuitable. I plan to share with other retailers how they can adopt similar strategies at the conference’s dedicated breakout session on allergen management.

One of the most productive areas for collaboration is data sharing. As retailers, we collect enormous amounts of data: about product performance, shopping trends and every link in the supply chain. Data sharing throughout the supply chain can draw ever richer insights about food and ways to make it safer, and the use of new approaches to sharing data — including via novel platforms such as blockchain — has been a prime topic of conversation at previous conferences. At this year’s conference, I will be helping to lead a breakout session on data management, and I look forward to learning more about this crucial topic from the speakers and delegates.

Discuss emerging challenges

The conference is always a for a great way to hear about new technologies that help retailers and other stakeholders to provide safer food for consumers everywhere. However, technological advancements can present new challenges to retailers, such as when precise detection techniques reveal chemical or microbial hazards that were previously overlooked. At the non-competitive forum of the conference, retailers who have encountered these challenges can share tips on prevention and mitigation to make the field safer and more efficient as a whole. The conference also offers the opportunity to learn from renowned experts in their fields, such as Professor Chris Elliott, who specialises in food security and fraud at Queen’s University in Belfast. Professor Elliott will hold the floor during the first plenary to consider the possibilities for fraud and adulteration that accompany new product development and innovation.

Retailers also face problems regarding new attitudes towards existing technology, such as plastic packaging, which has served the industry well for food safety applications but comes with environmental impacts too serious to be overlooked. As retailers deal with the contrasting challenges of sustainability and food safety, I will be looking forward to hearing from industry players such as Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put who, at the second plenary, will address the plastic question, as well as other current conundrums.

As the Head of Safety at Sainsbury’s, Britain’s second-largest supermarket group, I have a particular emerging issue ahead of me: Brexit. A large proportion of Sainsbury’s products, including perishable foods, originate in the European Union, and so whether we’re in or out of Europe, maintaining links with food safety professionals will be key. GFSI provides an important forum to maintain our links both within Europe and throughout the world, and that linkage will only increase in importance over time.

Build connections with sectors beyond retail

While I am looking forward to meeting my peers in retail at GFSI 2019, retailers can make equally if not more important connections with food safety stakeholders in other sectors. Governmental regulatory agencies, for example, are well represented at the conference and retailers can communicate with representatives from these agencies to work together towards the common goal of making food safe.

Indeed, one of the most engaging qualities of the conference is its ability to bring together stakeholders who are widely disparate both in terms of locality and area of expertise. As your conference committee, we’re going to great lengths to cultivate that quality, as well as securing engaging, well-informed speakers on relevant topics that provide learning opportunities for everyone in attendance. Whether you are a fellow retailer or a manufacturer, a legislator or an NGO agent, I encourage you to join us in Nice for the 2019 GFSI Conference — no one involved in food safety should miss this essential event.Sainsbury’s is most closely affected by UK agencies, but we source our products from international suppliers that interact with different agencies and regulatory practices, as well as different food safety cultures and physical environments. The conference is a fantastic opportunity for retailers to quiz delegates from these distant localities on what they see as their local food safety risks. The lineup of speakers includes luminaries from South Africa to Japan and everywhere between, to say nothing of the diverse population of delegates milling the conference floor.

This post was written and contributed by:

Alec Kyriakides
Head of Central Technical Operations
Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd., UK
Member of the 2019 GFSI Conference Committee

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