Advanced Risk Assessment

How Detailed is your Supplier Approval SOP?

How deep does your Supplier Approval SOP go? Keeping up with supplier approval management can be a tricky, time consuming responsibility which puts unwanted pressure on your business. Common problems and issues often encountered by food businesses when implementing supplier approval management include:

  • A lack of resources in the technical department
  • Difficulty gathering current information from all suppliers
  • An inability to track the status of all outstanding requirements
  • Information submitted by suppliers which is incomplete/out of date
  • Irresponsible or unaware agents/traders and distributors
  • Missing information identified by auditors resulting in non-conformances
  • Insufficient raw material specification information
  • Difficulties in the new supplier approval process
Supplier Approval SOP
Supplier Approval

Is your business encountering some or all of these problems with your supplier approval sop?

Make sure your supplier audit questionnaires and product specifications are context specific.

No one likes being asked to provide information that they feel is not necessary or not relevant to them. Many food businesses have a single supplier self audit questionnaire format for all suppliers and often a single format for specifications. This means you are asking a lot of suppliers for information that is not relevant.

As part of your Supplier Approval SOP, we recommended using supplier audit questionnaires and specifications that are specific to the type of raw materials being supplied. For example, use as many formats as reasonable, i.e. meat, dairy, ingredient, contact packaging, non-contact packaging.

Request detailed information by ingredient type to encourage greater co-operation. Suppliers will recognise you are asking for data that is relevant.

Your Supplier Approval SOP should use pre-approval questionnaires at the earliest opportunity to identify problem suppliers from the start and keep them out of your supply chain.

Catching problem suppliers at the start and not letting them in to your supply chain is far easier and less painful than trying to fix the problems they bring. Problems can arise when NPD or Purchasing introduce new suppliers before the Technical Department has approved the supplier. This leaves Technical to play a game of ‘supplier approval catch-up’ and serious non-conformances may arise. Depending on the nature of the non conformances, you might need to identify a new supplier for a particular ingredient – placing an unnecessary and potentially costly strain on management resources.

By introducing pre-approval questionnaires – completed by suppliers to show that they meet minimum acceptable standards – this issue can be addressed right from the outset.

Have an accurate and up to date record of who your live suppliers are as part of your Supplier Approval SOP.

Up to 20% of supplier contact information becomes obsolete each year due to staff changes at supplying sites. QADEX’s experience indicates that inaccurate supplier information is as high as 40% due to:

  • Suppliers de-listed by Purchasing but Technical not informed
  • Staff turnover at supplier sites
  • Company restructuring / mergers / takeovers / closures
  • Poor record keeping

Check and update all supplier contact details on a six monthly basis. This half yearly task will pay for itself in time savings by the time your supplier audit records next need updating.

Reward accredited suppliers with a fast track process.

45% of sites supplying ingredients do not have BRC or a GFSI recognised food safety certification*. We believe firmly in rewarding accredited suppliers for their commitment. This means that if a supplier has achieved BRC or a GFSI1 recognised food safety certification, then they should be allowed to skip all parts of the self audit questionnaires that are covered within the scope of certification. When it comes to audits, supplier self-audit questionnaires rely on the responses provided by suppliers being accurate. Although there is some debate about auditor competence and audit consistency, it’s generally agreed that an auditor visiting a site and conducting an audit is better placed to provide accurate information than suppliers who audit themselves. Industry standards (and information quality) would improve if unaccredited suppliers work towards accreditation.

*Source : QADEX survey of over 5000 submitted self audit questionnaires

1 A full list of GFSI recognised schemes can be found at

Know what is in the raw material and ensure you understand the supply chain that lies behind it

If you do not know what is in the raw material or understand the supply chain for that raw material, your supplier approval sop is missing a trick and you may be unable to ‘risk assess’ that supply chain.

While travelling between factories in a hot country, our MD, Stephen Whyte repeatedly noticed open milk tankers with no apparent refrigeration, bouncing along rough open roads and frequently stopping at the roadside to collect milk from open churns. The farmers and tanker drivers had improvised a creative, but not food-safe, method to ensure the milk passed dairy intake checks. Overlooking this food safety risk would have been easy.

As a food business, it is essential that you appreciate an ingredient’s complete supply chain all the way from field to your processing site. Identifying a product journey will help you identify risks – and once identified, those risks can be managed. Many supply chains contain multiple steps which make it more difficult to gain full understanding.

Do not allow this complexity to become an excuse to hide behind. To learn about the supply chain for a particular ingredient start with a Google search. There is an astonishing amount of information immediately available on the internet. And to find out more, ask your suppliers. They should know!

You must understand supplier site activities – if the processing site is seasonal, what is happening during the off season? This is obvious, or is it?

Your factory produces processed food all year around so you may have assumed that the mango puree cannery in India is packing mango puree all year round. Wrong!

Consider the seasonality of fruit and vegetable crops. There may be processing capacity near the crop source which has the capacity to process large seasonal volumes quickly.

Do you know what is being processed out of season? Do any out of season activities present a risk to the ingredients used by your business?

A QADEX technologist recently visited a seafood cannery. In the warehouse he spotted labels for items used in pet food manufacture. On further investigation identified that due to fluctuating volumes of seafood raw material, the site was keeping itself busy canning pet food. Some ingredients used were not fit for human consumption…armed with this knowledge how would your supplier approval process be modified for this site? Would your supplier approval sop pick this up?

Review and risk assess responses to self-audit questionnaires as part of your Supplier Approval SOP.

Quantifiable rather than subjective risk assessments. Supplier audit questionnaires have been returned within days of being requested. Missing questionnaires have been chased up and returned.

Missing information on questionnaires has been asked for and subsequently provided by suppliers…This scenario may be idealistic but we live in hope!

We recommend that you review submitted questionnaires carefully and complete a quantitative scoring and risk assessment of each supplier.

Remember, if a supplier has something to hide then a self audit questionnaire may flag up a potential problem. Watch out for the following in your new supplier approval process:

  • Missing information. Question why.
  • Unusual answers Is the answer a red herring to deflect attention from a response that they know you won’t like?
  • Claiming information is not available. This red flag may mean that the supplier is an agent/trader who does not have the necessary information and may not have approved the site.
  • Suppliers who have not returned questionnaires. In our experience it is those suppliers who do not provide information who may be high risk. And – how can you carry out a risk assessment without the necessary information?

It is not possible to risk assess suppliers who refuse to complete supplier questionnaires so you need to audit these suppliers yourself or initiate a planned de list program.

Seek clarification where required – Ask the apparent stupid questions, you will be amazed with the answers!

When did your supplier approval management system last identify a high risk supplier with whom you’ve subsequently removed from your supply chain or worked with to help improve?

Audit your suppliers.

Everything so far is a paperchase . Would you choose a partner for life from a dating site without dating them? There is no substitute for an on-site audit conducted by an experienced auditor. How to conduct audits is an entire subject worthy of its own paper, but just go out and do it. That way you can make your choices on the basis of well informed quantitative risk assessments.

Use software solutions to assist with the gathering, assessment and management of all of the information required.

Here comes the cavalry. The amount of information to be gathered, assessed and managed may overwhelm paper-based systems – resulting in substantial cost but little tangible business benefit. Software solutions have emerged in recent years to assist supplier approval management. The best systems will:

  • Look after gathering, assessing and managing all of your supplier approval management information.
  • Generate substantial cost savings compared to existing manual processes.

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