How to Improve Quality & Food Safety…

Metal in Hotel Meat Pie and Plastic in Branded Tinned Soup – Our First Hand Experiences.

We thought we’d tell you about our recent consumer food safety experiences and the thoughts and emotions these incidents evoked. The first issue occurred at an open Level 4 HACCP course held at a large corporate hotel in Leeds.   A course delegate found a small piece of metal in a steak pie, not the kind of thing you want on a food safety course! The second issue was a piece of plastic found by Jess, our Business Development Manager, in a branded tin of soup. Both incidents left us with a lasting impression, here’s why…

The Hotel Pie

Initially the hotel was very concerned at the time of reporting the finding. They had contracted a third party to deal with their complaints and compliance issues, (perhaps seen as abdication and not delegation by the hotel management team!) so it was then picked up by them.

One of our delegates from the Level 4 HACCP course found a piece of metal in a steak pie.

We received an initial acknowledgement email very promptly – it was looking promising. Then it all went quiet! After chasing the issue twice, overall it took until early August to get a response – over 3 months! When we got the response we opened the email attachment with great excitement! But it really wasn’t worth the wait! A very short and standard letter with no specific detail relating to the issue.

I do appreciate that sometimes it is not possible to identify the source of the contaminant. However, there are ways and means (and acceptable timescales) for communicating this either to maintain and build brand loyalty or to destroy it!


The Branded Tinned Soup

Our Business Development Manager found a piece of plastic in her branded soup

Our Business Development Manager found a piece of plastic in her branded soup

Again this started well with a response within 24 hours requesting the contaminant be returned to the company so it could be investigated, which was duly done. Jess was then informed it would take up to a month for a response due to ‘factory commitments’. Jess chased it up after a month had passed and was told they would look into it. Another month later, and a letter arrived along with a voucher. However, the time for making amends and creating a positive outcome had long since passed as it took over 2 months for the final response to arrive!

The Outcome

So how did this make us feel? Well, not surprisingly, we felt frustrated, disappointed and annoyed at the length of time for an outcome.

Consequently we are now assessing new venues as my faith in the hotel’s ability to take food safety seriously is badly dented. Jess is still eating that brand of soup, whilst she uses up the vouchers. But we now have a lasting impression of that brand which certainly isn’t positive.  Have you had a similar issue, post below to tell us your story.

Adele’s Thoughts

So, how do you make your customers feel? What lasting impression do you leave them with? There’s nothing like being on the receiving end to focus the mind. The emotions created are powerful and long lasting. Social media gives an immediate platform for venting these frustrations and can quickly escalate to significant numbers – all potentially lost customers. As we all know, bad news travels fast.

Obviously reducing the number of complaints is where we should be focusing our efforts. So how do we impact product quality and complaints? Clearly not only by displaying graphs and charts of recent complaints data, but by making complaints relevant and engaging. To change behaviour, we have to change attitude. This requires a positive message – spelling out exactly how all layers of the operation can contribute to an improvement. Improving quality is often about very small changes having a significant cumulative effect – its rarely one killer change. This concept often referred to as ‘marginal gains’ was clearly illustrated by the UK cycling coach Dave Brailsford.

Using Marginal Gains, Dave Brailsford lead his time to win 70% of the cycling Golds at the London 2012 Olympics

Using Marginal Gains, Dave Brailsford lead his time to win 70% of the cycling Golds at the London 2012 Olympics

Brailsford believed in the concept of the ‘aggregation of marginal gains.’

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”. Dave Brailsford (2012)

Resulting in multiple wins of the Tour de France since 2012 and winning 70% of the available gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics!

This is the power of a questioning mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement. Read more about it in this article.

Here are Adele’s 7 top tips:

  • Use factory based teams with hands-on experience to identify the relevant ‘marginal gains’ for product quality and complaint reduction e.g. machine set-up, start-up checks, recipe compliance
  • Give these teams the time, resource and authority to implement these improvements
  • Track and analyse the impact of the changes on product quality and complaints
  • Make complaints data department or area specific – showing actual complaint letters and foreign bodies as well as overall trends. Generally teams are really interested to see what comes back from consumers
  • Further drive momentum by publishing departmental/site percentage contributions to overall site or group scores – encourage some carefully managed competition
  • Celebrate success where complaints have reduced
  • Build in monitoring or further verification to ensure the changes become part of the daily rhythm and routine

How can we help?

A major project for us over the last year has been the first phase of a quality improvement and complaint reduction initiative with a large branded manufacturer (they didn’t make the soup!). Via a highly interactive workshop, in a room covered in complaints data posters and photos, we challenged teams to consider what customer satisfaction means and how they can impact it. A hard hitting, fact based scenario illustrated how quickly complaints can escalate, especially via social media.

Multi-functional teams were tasked with looking at issues on specific lines and products. The depth of detail and understanding of the multiple contributing factors shown by the team was impressive, as was their enthusiasm for change (perhaps sometimes we don’t ask the right people about how to improve things). Delivered over 7 sites, a real buzz was created which is showing positive results and maintaining momentum for phase 2 of the project.

Can we help you to improve your quality and reduce your customer complaints?

Contact us on or call 01943 865065 to find out more.

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