From a retail point of view we are all working for the same customer; the consumer that walks into a supermarket and that buys the products we produce and distribute. We have to surprise her everyday by giving her excellent products at competitive prices. To quote Feargal Quinn of Superquinn supermarkets in Ireland; we have to crown the customer! And what better way to crown the customer than to offer superior quality. Ask yourself this question; have you ever met a consumer that demanded bad quality? I didn’t think so.
Consumers reward superior quality by simply buying more. There are many examples that prove that a consistent focus on superior product quality across the cool chain leads to higher sales and profitability. Particularly, on items that are more perishable, this strategy can lead to enormous growth in sales. Focusing on quality in the retail channel is one of the best ways to add value and to drive sales.
On the cost side quality is having an equal impact. In the supermarket store alone, an average retailer will have shrinkage levels in fruit and vegetables of roughly 4-8%. With the millions of euros in sales that most retailers have it is clear how large the impact of quality is. For a retailer to optimize the cost of shrinkage is the single biggest opportunity to reduce cost in the cool chain. Actually, for all partners in the cool chain it is the single biggest opportunity to reduce integral costs.
It is very easy to see that investing in quality pays off; both in consumption and in costs. So why are we not all more committed to quality? How can we bring quality management and quality awareness to a higher level across the cool chain? If we are all focused on satisfying the consumer; how can we make quality management a key driver for consumer satisfaction?
We need to make quality management tangible!
That starts by taking our scientific understanding of how Perishables behave after harvest and elevate that. Instead of developing graphs of respiration rates at different temperatures or at different oxygen levels, we need to actually translate that information into a more actionable concept: Shelf Life Loss.
A temperature graph during transport only tells you if a certain temperature has been exceeded, but even the brightest professor can not estimate the effect of a specific temperature regime on Shelf Life Loss. For that you need to have mathematical formulas that calculate Shelf Life Loss. A number of leading companies in the industry is very advanced in developing these Shelf Life Loss models and incorporating them in RFID/Temperature technology. This will revolutionize the way we look at cool chains and perishables.
With control over Shelf Life Loss we will encounter another opportunity: to harvest products at higher maturity. This very often improves eating quality but by definition it shortens shelf life. With Shelf Life Loss under control we can start to optimize taste. The effect this can have on the perishables industry is enormous.
Collaboratively monitoring and managing Shelf Life Loss is a very powerful way to drive quality throughout the cool chain.
Once we control Shelf Life Loss of a specific product it is very easy to link that to shrinkage data in the retail store. Suddenly we no longer talk about scientific data such as respiration rates, but we talk Dollars and Euros. Suddenly we create a mutual and tangible responsibility and thus a shared accountability for quality in the cool chain and we can balance that with optimum eating quality.
I will even go one step further. When we are able to monitor Shelf Life Loss and we know the cost involved, we can translate this concept into product specifications. Retailers can then agree with their cool chain partners that all oranges arriving at their depot not only meet their normal quality specification, but that they also have a Remaining Shelf Life of, for instance, 5 to 8 days when stored at room temperature. That best guarantees optimum eating quality for consumers while optimizing shrinkage in the store and maximizing profit across the cool chain.
Science Fiction? Not really. Technologically we are not very far away from this world. Shelf life models are being developed and RFID/temperature integration is close to becoming commercially available. And leading retailers increasingly focus on “taste” as an important point of differentiation. More importantly we will need to all feel part of this Partnership for Quality; from field to retail shelf. We need to learn to deal with the transparency and responsibility it creates. We will need to move away from the world where temperature monitoring during transport is only done to “check” whether transport was according to specification; temperature monitoring has to serve optimization of shelf life and taste!
We should never forget; in the end we are all working for the consumer; let’s give her excellent products by revolutionizing the way we manage quality in the cool chain! In a Partnership for Quality.