People’s feelings about the safety and quality have been evolving, expanding from “fear” (relating to personal and financial well-being) to a wider range of concerns. Some of this change is generational, and important to consider when a company is making long-term plans as they relate to supply quality management. At the same time, people’s attitudes toward businesses have changed as well.
The number of times people have been harmed by breakdowns in quality has made consumers more cautious, especially when some incidents have been so egregious, they’ve resulted in lengthy prison sentences for top management in one industry and a wake-up call across all of manufacturing.
When it comes to food, this fear is very personal and alarming. Food for infants, where people have a right to expect special care, is now fraught. Infant formulas were found, in the last few years, to be contaminated by toxic bacteria in one case, and the industrial chemical melamine cyanuric acid in others.
As recently as a few days ago, the New York Times carried this headline: Traces of Controversial Herbicide Are Found in Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.* A boycott seems to be gaining momentum.
Even pets have been affected.
Tests found 11 out of 12 pet food varieties contained bacteria considered serious health threats by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) such as Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter, including drug-resistant varieties…and 4 out of 8 had medium or high levels of fungal toxins.**
Large, reputable retailers like Costco regularly issue recalls for food products. As a result of this, government regulators were forced to step in, producing a massive overhaul of how the national food supply is monitored, culminating in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA.)
These events may very well have contributed to a shift in people’s opinions about business, in particular “Big Business.”
This nuance related to size is important. When there are breakdowns in the supply chain leading to dangerous results, they often happen in a smaller company in the supply chain, but are associated with the “Big Business” (i.e., “Big Brand”) at the end of the supply chain. The Ben & Jerry’s problem was not “caused” by Ben & Jerry’s. They are at the end of a chain of suppliers, milk/cream producers of various sizes, who will never be mentioned by name.
According to the 2016 Gallup Poll*** which measured people’s level of trust in various institutions, 2016 was a year of historic lows: only 18% of respondents had “Great Deal/Quite a Lot” of confidence in Big Business, as compared to a historic high of 34% in 1975, a drop of 47%. (In fact, confidence has dropped for all institutions, with Congress plummeting from the 40% in 1975, to 9% in 2016, a drop of 77.5%)
Where we can identify ‘fear’ as a concern for one’s personal or financial safety (encompassing family and others to whom we feel close), young people have added “care” to their scope of concerns.
According to Nielsen, **** younger people are moving beyond personal concerns and fears when making their purchasing decisions; the attitude is about “caring.” These consequences often have no effect on their personal safety or comfort, although that effect is sometimes a by-product of the decision based on their wider concerns.
Despite the fact that Millennials are coming of age in one of the most difficult economic climates in the past 100 years, a recent Nielsen global online study found that they continue to be most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings—almost three-out-of-four respondents in the latest findings, up from approximately half in 2014.
The rise in the percentage of respondents aged 15 – 20, also known as Generation Z, who are willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact was also strong—up from 55% in 2014 to 72% in 2015.
“Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too,” says Grace Farraj, SVP, Public Development & Sustainability, Nielsen.***
One of the most stunning results from the contaminated pet food was that the tests were funded by ordinary people – 240 pet owners who put together a fund of $15,705 to test lots of pet food. People are becoming more proactive, rather than trusting companies to do the right thing.
Nielsen points us to another interesting shift:
Around the world, Opinion Elites of all ages are increasingly inquisitive and knowledgeable about the companies they choose to buy from. And according to findings from a 2014 Nielsen study among Opinion Elites in 16 countries about corporate reputation, this group (Millenials) actively learns about companies, often before they make purchases. ****
What this tells us is that people are looking beyond the marketing messages, for evidence of a company’s behavior backing up its claims, and that the company is in alignment with their values, not just their tastes.
Ben & Jerry’s did not discover the herbicide. It was, once again, consumers. Ronnie Cummins, a founder of the Organic Consumers Association, said the amount of glyphosate found in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream would not violate any regulations: “Not everyone agrees with the acceptable levels governments have set. And, anyway, would you want to be eating this stuff at all?” According to Scientific Reports, rats who consumed very low doses of glyphosate each day showed early signs of fatty liver disease within three months, which worsened over time. The amount was equivalent to a daily child’s portion of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.
Whether or not company scientists agree with the research, there is no question that consumers are very concerned, and distrust companies enough to spend money to conduct their own tests.
Earning people’s trust
Given the expanded scope of concerns, companies may do well to ask themselves: what is the most reliable and transparent evidence we can offer to back our commitments to quality and wider environmental/social concerns?
The answer is to show consumers the systems that are in place to ensure quality in all dimensions. It must be a system performing the following tasks:
- Testing of all lots moving through the supply chain
- Documenting the test with electronic (rather than PDF or paper) Certificates of Analysis (COA) which makes using SPC (Statistical Process Control) possible, allowing for quick intervention
- Preventing untested or contaminated lots from being shipped
- Preventing any out-of-specification materials from reaching the consumer
- Demanding personal signatures from suppliers with every lot (rather than relying on occasional audits) proving adherence to environmental, sustainability, and social standards as well as basic quality, i.e., compliance with required specifications.
Rob Michalak, global director of social mission at Ben & Jerry’s, said the company was working to ensure that all the ingredients in its supply chain come from sources that do not include genetically modified organisms:
“We’re working to transition away from G.M.O., as far away as we can get,” Mr. Michalak said. “But then these tests come along, and we need to better understand where the glyphosate they’re finding is coming from. Maybe it’s from something that’s not even in our supply chain, and so we’re missing it.”
The good news is that systems exist to enable this management and are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. They are Software as a Service solutions, requiring no new software inside the company.
These are words to the wise across manufacturing especially where products and their supply chains directly impact customers’ well-being. Visit www.gsqa.com to learn more about managing material variability across industries and acceptable quality at each checkpoint in your supply chain for quality assurance that lowers incident and defect rates, provides for supply visibility and spec-driven material performance.
As the Vice President Operations of a major natural resource supplier stated when deciding in favor of automating COA management with GSQA®: the COA documentation is as important as the product itself.