Smaller vegetable, fruit and flower producers still using paper-based systems are struggling to meet the ever-increasing requirements of retailers for quality assurance (QA) and traceability, says Derek Thompson, co-founder of Consus Fresh Solutions based in Lincolnshire. To address this the company has developed an intelligent software-based system to reduce the burden of audits and improve productivity.
“Producers agree how important traceability is to the industry and have dedicated QA staff to check daily for quality, temperature, labelling, and packaging,” Thompson says. “However, we have been told that daily and weekly audits, as well as the need to respond within hours to unannounced audits, are creating a huge overhead for producers.”
Thompson was a packhouse manager for many years and so understands first-hand the pressures on producers: “Each retailer can have different requirements for size or ripeness and varying specifications for shelf-life. Confirming that these requirements are met, before produce is dispatched from the packhouse, is vital to ensure that the customer accepts the consignment,” he says.
“To respond to these needs, some producers have doubled their QA teams in recent years to meet the requirements of the BRC Global Standard and those of retailers, Red Tractor and the Soil Association – all of which need similar information presented in different formats.”
Consus has been working with leading producers, including Castleton Farms, Polly Bell Organic Farms Ltd and AJ and CI Snell, to develop a paperless system. It automates many of the elements of QA, highlights issues with batches of produce and provides actual detailed costing to determine profitability and cost per pack.
Thompson continues: “Many producers already have good quality systems in place; we saw a need to support them by capturing the information electronically and creating labels with unique barcodes that would allow produce quality and full transactional history to be tracked post-harvest from field to dispatch. The Consus system is consistent with BRC and reports can be generated to meet the varying needs of auditors and retailers.”
Castleton Farms Ltd, part of the Berry Gardens Group, are run and owned by father and son team Murray and Ross Mitchell. Ross comments: “Using the Consus traceability system means that in a couple of clicks we can easily track a pallet that was dispatched to a customer, back to its original source. Consus was installed at the start of the season and has now virtually eliminated paper from our production environment.”
Consus sees potential for increasing the level of support to producers and will be demonstrating two new modules for the product – Facial Recognition for improved workforce management and Shelf-life Prediction – at Agri-Tech East's REAP Conference in Cambridge on 7 November.