UNIVEG’s Intelligent Traceability promotes progress for the entire industry

Ben Horsbrugh Univeg
Ben Horsbrugh is director of quality management at UNIVEG

“Collaboration lies at the heart of UNIVEG’s Intelligent Traceability strategy,” said the group’s director of quality management, Ben Horsbrugh, recently. Produce Business UK interviewed Ben to find out more about what UNIVEG means by Intelligent Traceability and how the firm is using it to underpin the future of its own business in a way that could in time have significant benefits for the whole produce industry

The interview with Ben is followed below by three examples of the strategy in action.

Can you explain to us what you mean by Intelligent Traceability?

Ben Horsbrugh (BH): Traceability is a core requirement of the fresh produce industry. As food safety, social compliance and sustainability concerns continue to impact on the business, so too do the traceability demands of retailers; the daily task of gathering, managing and sharing traceability documentation and data is a major challenge for suppliers and growers around the world.  

Intelligent Traceability means using information technology (IT) resources wisely to manage traceability documentation effectively. Intelligent Traceability means working with specialised IT partners who are able to work together to deliver cutting edge traceability solutions. Intelligent Traceability means collaboration at all levels of the supply chain in order to provide the best connections to – and from – the field.

We came up with the phrase “Intelligent Traceability” in order to express the importance of working intelligently on IT solutions. In a complex global market there is no “one size fits all” IT solution, which is why it is important to collaborate with specialised IT providers who are able and willing to work with each other.

By working collaboratively and intelligently UNIVEG’s aims are to help producers and suppliers share their data and documentation efficiently and to comply easily with our customers’ traceability requirements.   

You are also working closely with several customers. Do supply chain/customer relationships generally strengthen the supply chain and how are you using Intelligent Traceability to drive fresh produce sales for your customers?

BH: Many industries have demonstrated the benefits of intelligent supply chain organisation. There is also some interesting research, which has shown this also to be the case in the fresh produce industry (for example by professors David Hughes and Andrew Fearne in the UK).

Intelligent traceability solutions can help both supplier and customer to capture important data on aspects such as quality, certification and provide all parties with an objective basis for making any measuring improvements. For example, our use of the Muddy Boots Greenlight Quality Control solution in the UK and Belgium means that we can produce more detailed quality reports and analyse the data gathered to identify where the problems are occurring in the supply chain and how we can address them.  

This gives produce buyers a more objective basis upon which to evaluate supplier performance.

UNIVEG has taken a very collaborative approach to this strategy. Do you think that there is enough collaboration across the fresh produce industry?

BH: I really don’t know, but considering how fragmented this industry is, I certainly think that more collaboration is likely to bring more benefits to those involved.

As one of the world’s largest fresh produce companies, do you feel added pressure to be seen as a leader and forge the way for the industry in terms of innovation, the use of new technologies etc…

BH: I think any large company is obliged to behave like a leader, even if its market share may be comparatively small. I think it’s fair to say that UNIVEG’s position is a result of Hein Deprez’ ambition to do things in an innovative way. However, we must not forget that even a big company such as UNIVEG operates in a low margin, high volume, highly fragmented market. The pressure is not only to be a leader, but to use our resources wisely in the process.

Not only have you been collaborative in developing Intelligent Traceability solutions, you are developing solutions with a view to sharing them with the wider industry. Is that a difficult path to tread, as it eventually gives others the same opportunities as you to succeed?

BH: Even if we also sell apples, UNIVEG is not in a position – as are certain other companies – to earn billions by investing in IT. What we need are good and reliable platforms to run our business and to manage our data; it is our data and business processes that add value and it is IT which costs money.  

Since the fresh produce industry is relatively small and requires specialised solutions, the benefits of collaboration – simply in terms of investment – far outweigh the drawbacks. And if you take the lead in this process you are more likely to be at least one step ahead of the competition.

Is it possible to begin to measure the results yet? If so, what have been the results of the strategy so far in terms of enhanced performance, and how is this reflected in a) customer feedback and b) sales?

BH: It is too early yet to measure the results comprehensively, but there is clear evidence that the use of quality control (QC) tools, such as Greenlight QC and the residue testing database Fresh.Point [from Dutch firm ChainPoint], is helping us to manage processes more efficiently and to use the data to improve performance. Since many retail customers are investing in similar kinds of IT tools, it is clear to us that they will be expecting suppliers to work in a similar way.

Intelligent Traceability is clearly a long-term strategy and a big commitment. How can customers find out more or get involved, and what else have you got in the pipeline?

BH: I think most customers have our telephone number…

THREE COLLABORATIVE SUCCESSES

1. Joint initiative promises industry-wide benefits

UNIVEG has collaborated with fresh produce industry counterparts to develop Fresh.Point, a groundbreaking online residue-monitoring platform for the European fruit and vegetable sector.

The Fresh.Point platform was developed by UNIVEG, alongside two more German fresh produce companies and the German Fruit Traders Association (DFHV), in order to cope more effectively with the demanding residue standards of European retail customers.

Within its “Intelligent Traceability” strategy, UNIVEG routinely works in close collaboration with key IT partners to develop a range of specialised food safety and traceability software solutions. In the case of Fresh.Point, UNIVEG recognised it was beneficial and cost-effective to develop the platform in collaboration with other companies in the fresh produce sector.

The resulting platform allows importers, wholesalers and retailers to manage their residue testing efficiently and helps them use their residue test data to evaluate food safety risks effectively. It also enables importers, wholesalers and retailers to ensure the quality and safety of fruit and vegetables and thus safeguard the wellbeing of consumers.

Fresh.Point connects traders with food laboratories and supports the workflow of the assigning, reporting and analysis functions of product tests. By sharing online infrastructure and functionality, as well as industry knowledge, the co-operating traders have increased monitoring quality and reliability.

Fresh.Point supports relevant existing schemes and infrastructure and uses every opportunity to integrate data, therefore eradicating unnecessary duplication and producing higher data quality and information at a lower cost.

The platform is already being used by 15 companies and manages about 20,000 residue tests per year.

UNIVEG remains the largest single user with about 7,000 residue tests per year and Horsbrugh, UNIVEG’s director of quality management, hails this project a success: “It has greatly increased the quality of the residue test data gathered by UNIVEG. This enables us to assess and evaluate this data more effectively as part of our risk management,” he says.

“We have improved the management of the entire residue testing process, from making the order to analysing the data. Furthermore, we have profited from the technical expertise of our project team and designed a powerful tool, which can be efficiently integrated with other IT systems.”  

2. Calculating the way forward for the industry

UNIVEG’s ARfD Calculator shows both the value of collaboration and UNIVEG’s belief that some things can be shared for the common good of the industry.

The calculator is a groundbreaking online tool that enables the user to calculate residue test results against the secondary standards of European retailers.  

Having successfully trialled it across the global UNIVEG group of companies, the world’s largest fresh produce firm now wants to share its innovation with the rest of the industry.

The web-based tool was developed by UNIVEG Deutschland and programmed by the Dutch company 2 Make IT Work. SynchroniSed daily with the EU pesticides database, the ARfD Calculator can help growers and fresh produce suppliers ensure that their products comply with the demands of leading European retailers.  

It is now freely available to any fresh produce supplier or producer working with European retailers, laboratories analysing pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables, and retailers.  

The resource was entered for the Fruit Logistica Innovation Award in 2015 and, says UNIVEG’s CEO, Francis Kint, the innovation is in the detail.

“That includes the ability to calculate residue tests against practically all residue standards of European retailers, the inclusion of the Dutch, Belgian and German ARfD values, the capacity to widen the scope of the tool to encompass any retailer specification and the ability to run the program in all major browsers (Android, Safari, Windows, Firefox),” he explains.

“Quite simply, this calculator adds value by providing all stakeholders in global fresh produce supply chains with clear, accurate and reliable information about whether their product complies with the increasingly stringent residue standards of European retailers and rapidly changing European MRLs. This can help suppliers avoid unnecessary claims, reduce unnecessary duplication of residue tests and give the customer more confidence in the product.”  

The ARfD Calculator is available in two formats: a free version for any user and a premium version, at the modest price of €499 per annum (£362), which allows the user to customise evaluation reports and to access to a web service interface.

3. GlobalGAP link looks at certification data harmony

Click here, to read Produce Business UK’s earlier story about GlobalGAP’s collaboration with UNIVEG to synchronise GlobalGAP certification data.


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