As grocery retailers continue to improve business processes and meet their customers’ demands for trusted information, they are putting a bigger focus on product identification.
But it’s not something they can do alone — product ID begins with the manufacturer. That’s why retailers such as Woolworths are increasingly looking to their suppliers to help them ensure every product can be quickly and accurately identified throughout their supply chain.
Woolies has managed its own Quality Assurance Standard since 1996. Independently third-party audited, it’s known as “Woolworths Quality Assurance” or WQA.
Vendors supplying Woolies with Woolworths-branded foods must maintain certification to the WQA Standard, with two audits each year to keep them in check. The certification is site and product specific (which Woolies will nominate).
The WQA program is by invitation only, but whether you’re already supplying Woolworths, or looking to supply them in the future, it’s worth taking the time to look at the WQA and identify any gaps you need to fill.
Woolies has WQA Standards for many areas, including, fresh produce, manufactured foods, eggs, livestock and seafood (including marine caught).
In this blog (and the next) we’ll look at a summary of the traceability, document quality processes and checking requirements — including checkweighing and inspection — outlined in the WQA Quality Assurance Standard Version 8 for manufactured foods. In Part 2, we’ll look at a summary of coding and labelling (again regarding QA for manufactured foods).
But please note, for the purposes of this blog, we have not included every single requirement in the QA for manufactured foods – for the full WQA criteria, we recommend you read the whole document, available from Woolworths.
Traceability is critical for Woolworths. That’s why vendors need to develop, document and implement a procedure to ensure all material and inputs are traceable through all stages of the site’s processes. This includes:
- All raw material (including packaging) to be forward traceable through all stages of the process — right through to its use in a product.
- All work-in-progress material to be traceable forwards and backwards.
- All finished product (including packaging) to be backwards traceable through all stages of the process, through to all raw materials and inputs used. This means each individual raw material and its supplier should be identifiable.
- All finished products to be traceable through the product distribution chain until delivered to a Woolworths Ltd store or distribution centre.
- All products to be traceable through information on both the retail sale unit and the shipper packaging. (This is covered in more detail in Part 2 of this blog — under Coding and Labelling.)
On top of this, vendors should keep up-to-date Quality System records and all relevant production records related to the process. Your traceability system should be audited at least once a year, across the groups of products you produce or handle, and the traceability exercise should be able to be completed within 4 hours.
The WQA has strict protocols to ensure product quality and weight are maintained.
To demonstrate that your product meets the weight or volume declared on the label, every single Woolworths-branded, finished-retail-packed products must go through an electronic check-weighing system.
You should keep any data and reports captured from electronic on-line check weighing systems, and they should be easily retrievable. You should also have procedures in place to calculate and verify packaging weights to ensure the actual product net weight/volume is measured accurately, and also record any references on product labels to drained weight (e.g.: for canned goods), for compliance.
In Australia, sampling plans and verification checks should be based on the 12-sample protocol — this is actually a legal obligation, independent of Woolies’ checkweighing requirements. This means that the average should be above the declared net weight or volume, but no single sample can be greater than 5% under the prescribed net weight or volume.
Matthews has a range of check weighers to help you meet both Woolworths’ requirements and your own product inspection needs. Our range includes check weighers especially designed for:
- low-weight goods (10g to 15kg)
- classifying and sorting goods according to weight classes
- wet areas
- goods in motion
If checkweighing is new to you, you may find this blog on how to calculate the ROI of your checkweigher interesting.
At a minimum, all Woolworths-branded products must be subject to metal detection. This means the vendor’s site should include foreign-object-detection equipment, such as metal detectors or x-ray systems, to detect if any products have become contaminated with foreign products.
In most cases the equipment will be situated in-line so it can screen the finished packed product. Vision inspection systems can also be used on part-processed products to improve contamination protection, but may not always be necessary.
Document quality processes
As a vendor, you must develop, document and implement a HACCP plan/s to identify potential hazards to food safety, quality criteria and regulatory criteria for both the country of production and the country of sale (whether that’s Australia or NZ — or both). On top of that, vendors must put in place sufficient control measures to identify, eliminate and reduce hazards to a safe level — or to eliminate the hazards.
The idea of this Process Control, of course, is to ensure products supplied to Woolies are processed, manufactured and/or produced in a way that assures product integrity – being safety, quality and meeting all legal requirements.
You might notice that Woolworths’ requirements are not entirely unique. Indeed, their product ID requirements , for instance, are an example of best practice across the industry.
And, if you’re a food manufacturing company in Australia, you really should already be ticking these boxes.
Work with the experts
Matthews are the product identification and inspection experts. If you need help or support with your product identification and inspection, contact us or call us on 1300 CODING (1300 263 464). You can also read more about product identification and our solutions on our website.
In Part 2, we summarise the coding and labelling requirements outlined in the WQA Quality Assurance Standard Version 8, dealing with QA for manufactured foods.
You may also find this article on mitigating risk and building brand trust interesting.