Food Safety in The Supply Chain

Food Safety in The Supply Chain

Cedric Buckingham is the U.S. Division Supply Chain Manager at Big Tree Farms. Cedric has expertise in all Supply Chain areas (Inventory Planning, Demand Planning, Purchasing, Inventory Control, Distribution, Logistics and Manufacturing). He has been directly responsible for Forecasting/Demand Planning, Supply Chain Planning and Analysis, Inventory Management and managing OTB (Open to Buy) and S&OP. He has used SAP and Oracle at advanced levels and served as Project Manager on ERP Project Teams, EDI Supply Chain enhancements and CPFR programs. Cedric is also an APICS Chapter President and Instructor for Southern Oregon.

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Note: This is a transcription of an interview. It has not gone through a professional editing process and may contain grammatical errors or incorrect formatting.

 Transcription of Interview

 Joe:      This is Joe Dager with ApRecs, and with me is Cedric Buckingham. He is the U.S. Division Supply Chain Manager at Big Tree Farms. Cedric has a vast amount of experience in the industry planning, analysis and, most of all, making it all work on the application side. Cedric, if you don’t mind, could you give me an elevator speech about yourself and Big Tree Farms?

Cedric:      Oh, absolutely. I’m fairly new with Big Tree Farms. I’ve been with the organization now for about four months, and I’m in charge of the American division for the company. We primarily focus on our retail products into consumer channels. Our focus is mainly on our coconut sugar, which is organic fair trade, very integrated into the Indonesian supply chain on that side. That’s what I do for my daytime job. For my nighttime job, I’m also president of the local APICS chapter. I’m very involved in the community in general – improvement projects, continuous improvements, Lean philosophies, and implementations. I do a lot of conversations with QA folks, with regard to food quality. I’ve done some consulting work around SQF implementation on using various tools to help facilitate procedural documentation changes. For most part, I’m a “Jack of all Trades” when it comes to operations management. Some of the things I’ve done in the past – I’ve also worked for Harry & David, and I’ve also worked for Tree Top, the juice company in Selah, Washington. I was with them for a little bit to help them through a conversion from a company they acquired, which was called Sabroso. Sabroso is where I mainly cut my teeth on all things around inventory control, quality, planning – you name it, I’ve probably touched on at one point or another with my career there.

Joe:      Most of the time, we look at Lean being applied in the supply chain in the operation side. Have you seen that in your work within the food industry? Are people using Lean?

Cedric:      Oh yeah, absolutely. One of the nice things when I was with Sabroso is – we partnered with an organization called OMEP, Oregon Manufactures Extension Program. What they would do is actually help us out in bringing in Lean consultants with some fairly good price savings on their proposals. They were very good at going through and doing analysis, doing value stream maps – really painting a picture of where the organization could go in an alternate direction to become more efficient. That’s just one direction. They also – APICS, whom I’m associated with, has a lot of training around Lean implementation, 5s, 5y’s, that type of things.

Joe:      Did they coincide with what’s going on in food safety and documentation? Or, is there a disconnect?  I know ISO butted heads with Lean there for a while. Have you seen the same thing within food safety documentation? Are they butting heads or are they separate?

Cedric:      That really depends on the practitioner that you’re asking. A lot of folks that kind of call themselves consultants in the Lean area, are just wanting to look at the Toyota manual. It is not really that helpful when it comes to dealing with the food security concerns that come out there. It really goes down to the level, you have to have your traceability in documentation, pieces in place for a food manufacturing organization. It’s perceived as being a non-value add in the Lean philosophies. Unfortunately, you’ve got the regulatory stuff that you have to have those pieces in. I think, whenever you’re having a Lean consultant coming in, you really have to clearly spell out – if you’re just creating widgets for the consumer, and it doesn’t really apply to any of the quality traceability issues, then the consultant is really not going to understand that level of detail that has to come when you have a product recall. Having a Kanban is not going to help that. You really have to have documentation control – traceability at the point of production level – to be able to really utilize that.

Joe:      When you’re looking at traceability, is the sales desk asking the food processor to give traceability, or is there an expectation that it’s there?

Cedric:      There’s always an expectation that it’s there. I mean – USDA and FDA both have regs very specifically around how quickly you have to turn over your traceability studies. Basically within 24hours, if you get a call that says, “Hey, you guys need to provide this,” there’s an expectation that you have to get that level of detail. Where Lean kind of misses the boat – based on some consultants, I’m not going to say that all consultants fall onto that level – they tend to be dismissive of that, when the reality is that that needs to be a core focus of food companies’, quality statements that they can really perform that activity and really excel at it.

Joe:      I would think traceability is a big part of value-added services in a food company, and that it should be something that is streamlined, efficient, and effective… all those Lean words.

Cedric:      Oh yeah, absolutely. There are lots of ways you can be really efficient about those types of documentation. I remember when I was working with Sabroso, we had very stringent commitments on field-to-fork traceability programs. That’s above and beyond the standard traceability that a lot of food companies have, which basically says that you can track where that food came from, down to the level of the field that it was picked out of. Most traceability levels – it’s basically just to the supplier. It’s not any farther into the tiers of the supply chain that really happens. One of the things I enjoyed in the first part of my career was helping to develop a system that actually got down to that level of traceability, and we’ve developed systems in place that you could quickly recall – depending on where a critical event happened to a product, what hour it can be associated to, and also drive it down to which individual field that material came from. Which was really critical for baby-food grade materials and very important for organics, because you can have a lot of differentiation of the fields not being appropriate for organic product, but you can also have a grower that has fields A, B, C, D, which are going through various levels of their own organic certification. So some of those fields could be good; some of them couldn’t be good. Being able to drill down to that level was very helpful in making sure that the security of the food product you’re producing is solid.

Joe:      I think there’s a disconnect sometimes, because there’s an expectation that you can get to the field at a block level on any product you buy – I’m not sure that’s totally true, because things get mixed, things get sized, and, of course, fruit is processed, so there’s tests,  but I think the consumer has that expectation, don’t they?

Cedric:      I do believe it’s so. In terms of large-scale manufacturers that have been putting the resources to be able to do that, I’d say there’s a confidence level there. With the organic piece, it’s really amazing if you’re in the organic side, it’s a lot more stringent than what you’d think. In dealing with the Oregon Tilth association, they are very diligent about going through and making sure that your records are lined up, and then actually connecting the dots between the manufacturing and the supplier, to make sure there’s nothing else really going on that’s kind of funky. They’re really good about sending alerts out when somebody has been out of compliance. On the organic piece, I would say, yes, there’s very good processes in place around that, around the baby-food industry – very tight constraints around that. When it comes to the conventional side of it, it’s not so much. The reality of it is – a lot of the companies that are in a more conventional market are just looking to get to the supplier. They don’t want to do – there’s an expectation that that’s out there in the supply – the tier-one supplier coming to them as a customer has got that documentation in order, can quickly give into it. To a field level, not so much. To an actual supplier level, yes. In the sort type of commodities, for like apples, peaches, pears – those things I’m fairly familiar with – it’s not so critical to have that field representation, as opposed to having a good supplier in place that they feel can adequately speak for that.

Joe:      When you’re talking about good supplier, the sales desk – if they have a need, something to fill, and there are certain restrictions, let’s say, on where you’re exporting the fruit to – you basically have to produce those records, but those records are being produced at the supplier level, and they assume that there’s more records behind that.

Cedric:  Right. It has always been interesting to me, because in terms of the supplier qualification records, what you wind up finding is – fruit companies that actively export out of the country to, let’s say, Japan or several of the Asian regions – what winds up happening is that Asian standards for manufactured fruit quality is a lot higher than in the U.S. So, it’s actually a tougher requirement if those companies are going out. If a company has got an exporter base that they’re already sending to those areas, I would say that they tend to be a little bit more reliable, because they’re already having to ratchet up to that additional scrutiny.

Joe:      We’re having better crops, and more. To me, that also brings on some other, further classification, because I get to be pickier if there’s excess supply.

Cedric:      Oh, yeah. The other thing, when you look at how you’re going to temper the concept of the additional supply. I mean, the way I look at that organizationally is how much of that is actually good agricultural practices helping out, or how much of that is that actually giving into – you’re not seeing it so prevalent in the food industry like in the weeds and those things, where GMOs really bump up the yield metrics – how well are we defining our traceability against those types of variables. That’s why I really like Big Tree Farm’s philosophy around the non-GMO piece – I mean, that’s just become my personal bent on it. It’s not saying that GMOs don’t have their place out there, but in terms of making sure that it’s visible to a consumer, that the product is not a GMO product, I think is very important. Now, in itself puts additional traceability concerns out there. That area keeps continuing to grow – we’re also seeing the restrictions in the European markets and Asian markets around specific GMO type of products – it just makes the traceability piece that much more critical – to be able to get in touch with your supplier, to make sure that you guys are on the same page; that these products are meeting the specifications that they’re asking for. I think that really is, of all things, probably going to be a bigger challenge in this decade.

Joe:      One of the interesting things you do is – I want to flip this a little bit, because you do a lot of importing into the U.S. Everyone thinks it’s easy to import in the United States, is it?

Cedric:      Oh, no. We take a very proactive approach with this organization. At Big Tree we – it’s kind of a unique example in the Indonesian area, because it’s very focused around supporting the farmers. There’s a lot of cooperative development that our CEO, Ben Ripple, has been very aggressive on in terms of getting farmers oriented to being organic, getting them certified, making sure that the entire supply chain is certified front to back. When we’re making a product, it’s a thing we pride ourselves as a brand, being able to have that traceability element all the way down to the fields.

Joe:      Is this documentation – is this someone writing on the back of a piece of paper, collecting a bunch of them and putting them in a file folder, and sending them over to you, or – how is that done?

Cedric:      For the finished product itself, when it arrives here – this is a standard process with most organizations – there’s going to be a CoE that comes along with the oversea shipment that validates what is going on out there. The materials themselves are completely within the control of Big Tree Farms, as it goes all the way from Indonesia to this country. We are able to keep the documentation path very transparent. That’s also been validated with the USDA, their organic certifier. It is not that easy for most folks to be able to get the qualifications on the USDA organic certs. There is a lot of groundwork we have to do on that to be able to claim yours within that certification.

Joe:      Is there different regulations changing, as far as importing into the United States? I mean, do you see MRLs or PHI intervals changing as they do, maybe, when we’re exporting into different countries?

Cedric:      Not so much. I have not seen that much of that going on.

Joe:      Where do you think food safety and food safety regulations are going? Are they going to become more consistent or do you think there’s going to be more disparity between the countries?

Cedric:      I would envision primarily around like the GMO piece that you’re going to see a wider variation on what countries are going to accept a lot. Some of those restrictions are brand-driven, some of them are consumer-driven, and then some of them are, basically, country-driven, trying to regulate some of the market prices going on within certain regions. As time moves on, there’s going to be a lot more regulatory pieces going on, that are really going to make it a challenge to do business within specific countries. I don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing. Depending on the level of where your organization wants to be, and playing to a global consumer base, where you need the raw materials and finished products to be able to support that. It is going to be a barrier for some folks to be able to get into markets, but for the bigger players that can flex into that, it should tighten up the market to be able to get better products into these places.

Joe:      What do you see on the horizon? What, do you feel, are going to be some of the issues coming up, especially in food safety and even in the supply chain?

Cedric:      I think the critical one and this one always surprises me is the counterfeit. It’s not so much in the fruit industry, but you definitely see that in consumer products coming into the U.S. They are very closely tied. If you’re getting a food product co-manufactured down in some other area, imported in – I mean, there’s risk there, even when you have a supply chain completely dialed in. It really speaks to having good, authentic, third-party auditors in place to be able to help with that. There’s a lot of great organizations out there to help with that – that can go in, do site surveys, inspect to make sure that the documentation is correct. One of the nice things about having the USDA organic certifiers as they really can help out identify those types of risks. If you’re not in the organic side of it, you are on your own devices to be able to make sure that the materials that you’re bringing in – you have to go through your own assessment of third-party support for actual audits. I’ve got some friends – that’s their full-time gig, going around overseas and just making sure that those sites are sanitary, are following the GMP practices, has the HACCP controls in place, to be able to provide a good practice. We’re in such an environment these days, that one social media marketing hit, and your product is coming up on recall – you just don’t know how much of a brand impact that can actually have on your product. It’s becoming more and more a world of big data – being able to react lightning-fast to the representation issue when you do have those problems downstream.

Joe:      I go back, and you think of the Tylenol scare, the Audi and Toyota brake issues. Those are scenarios that you really have to plan on, because you’re going to have to know what to do in case that does happen. Would you agree with that?  

Cedric:      Oh, absolutely. If you look at, for example, supplier issues on a particular piece of electronics coming in for a motor vehicle – most of the regulations are around design concepts, and then there’s an expectation that once that organization has that design cleared and it’s good to go, then as long as the suppliers are cleared by that company, then you should be transparent, should not have any problems. Time and time again, you see issues where there’s not a lot of regulations on the supplier side of it. I think a good case in point – unlike the auto industry – if you take the aeronautics industry, I mean there are so many regulations about the QA and inspections that go on for the materials that come in. I’ve seen this – there’s a company, locally, that basically remanufactures helicopters, and the QA effort that they have to go through just to validate that the part is authentic and will handle the stress test is amazing. Why you don’t see a similar type of testing intervals going on with the auto industry is just, kind of baffling to me, but I’m not that familiar with the auto industry. I’m more of a fruit guy.

Joe:      To me, it seems that we are more market-driven, than we are regulatory-driven. It’s the markets that really demand the regulations Is that correct?

Cedric:      If you’re going to be a major player out there in the field, the general regulatory guidelines are, the low mark of where you want to hit. You really want to be able to design your systems to exceed those expectations, because, for example – you’re a small manufacturer that is trying to make headway with a large, top 50 food company. The way you really want to sell yourself these days is to be able to quickly and easily exceed the expectations of that supplier. The customer in that scenario is going to have very high expectations anyway. I would tend to focus on, especially if I’m a smaller company – to be able to make those inroads – is, first off, to make sure that you are on the cutting edge of your qualifications. So, GMP is good, HACCP is better. Being SQF Certified, which seems to be more and more of an industry standard these days, is probably where you want to orient yourself in terms of your quality documentation level. Having those third-party audits out there is a real benefit to getting in with those particular customers.

Joe:      When I look at the new FSMA regulations, and the different scenarios that are already existing – are we asking people to be preventive? Part of being preventive means that – I don’t want to say that you need to be cutting edge – but you have to be, at least, doing things to an obvious standard that others can do.

Cedric:      I think that in terms of document controls – I mean, there are various QA organizations, even ISO – there are very specific ways you control your documentation and your internal language of documents. When it comes to the digital area – having archival databases and being able to use your existing ERP systems, to be able to leverage traceability. There is some interesting stuff that goes out there. Based on the ERP systems that I’ve worked on, there’re varying levels of sophistication, even between the Cadillac ERPs. ERPs were primarily set-up as an accounting function, and really don’t have complicated QA mechanisms built in. I can give you a case in point. I was really impressed with the software that Tree Top uses. I was very impressed on how dynamic you can get into the level of controls off of their system. In terms of how it structurally works, it’s very cool what you can do with it – you get to put some very specific programmers within that system to drive the sales execution, it’s very slick. I learned a lot from observing that system.

Joe:      What’s in the future for you? Are you going to still continue to be active in APICS?

Cedric:      The APICS organization actually just merged in with the – I think it was more of an acquire/merge – but they’re getting more and more involved in the supply chain piece on the global risk assessments. I was one of the first round CSCP certification folks, and going from that model to looking at how you teach the additional models after that – that’s a really quality system on getting your front bases on the supply chain. I can’t speak highly enough of that particular set of certifications. There’s a lot of other good ones around – ISM has got their certification on supply. It’s good, but I’m not the biggest fan. I kind of prefer the APICS, but I’m a little biased. I would say of all the areas of growth professionally that’s out there, the supply chain side, and even more so – quality folks that can understand the supply chain side as well. That’s going to be a big deal in the future, because we’re in a global economy, and there’s no getting around that. If you’ve got a head for a QA piece, and working as a supply person – I mean, you’re going to be golden in the organization, because you’re going to be able to spot those types of risk factors, along with the disruption stuff and timing stuff that the supply chain guys, kind of, freak out about.

Joe:      Do you food safety and the quality people starting to take more of a role at the leadership table? 

Cedric:      Frankly, it really needs to be a large part. It’s not just an operational piece, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, it really comes all the way into the brand marketing, brand recognition piece, because if you’re not aligned – it’s one thing for the operation’s quality, but quality overall through an organization is really important. The top companies are getting more and more adept at that all the time. I haven’t seen much growth in terms of having – where you see weird designations like, along with CFO you see “Chief Supply Chain Officer”, “Chief IT Person” – we don’t really see much of “Chief in Charge of Quality” type of positions. I would imagine that somewhere in the future, you’re going to start seeing that with some of these bigger organizations that really see quality as overarching piece of what needs to happen within the organization, and how it actually crosses the boundaries of purchasing department versus your quality. What’s interesting even within the supply chain certification education pieces, quality isn’t a big piece of it – it’s often thought of as being its own separate kind of doctrine or discipline.

As the certifications kind of grow, the key things I would love to see in there is – and I’ve been a strong advocate of this on my side – key pieces around sustainability. Sustainability gets a lot of press out there. What does it really mean to an organization that is trying to put together a sustainability program and how you actually do those implementations. I think sustainability is seeing more growth in the executive parameters because you actually see “VPs in Sustainability.”  Those type of positions are starting to pop up and be more animated within the structure of the organization. In terms of growth and the notoriety of those positions, sustainability is got to get in there with the certification pieces, and QA has got to be more of a focus within the certification parameters for all of the pieces. For example, if you’re doing straight purchasing, or buying, or sourcing, you want to have folks that have some sort of additional education on QA parameters to look at before they initiate – because if you can be proactive in your agreements with your suppliers on that side, then you’re saving back work on the QA inspectors at the unloading dock. If you can really focus on getting those parameters in place, getting penalties and deterrents put in place in the initial contracts – all of a sudden, you’ve just made your supply chain that much more efficient.

Joe:      I think what you said there holds a lot of value. What’s the best way for someone to contact you? Is LinkedIn the best way to connect up with you?

Cedric:      LinkedIn is the best way to get a hold of me, Cedric Buckingham, easy to find.

Joe:      I would like to thank you very much, Cedric. It was a wonderful conversation.

Cedric:      Thank you, everyone. I’d be glad to do it again too. This was awesome.

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