BRCGS Responds to Pandemic Challenges and Prepares for the Future


Interview with Jon Murthy from the BRCGS

Over the course of the last few months the BRCGS has launched a number of initiatives to respond to the pandemic challenges. We have talked to Jon Murthy, Head of Global Marketing at BRCGS, about the impact of the pandemic on food safety audits, the new certification initiatives and the future challenges for audits when it comes to ensuring food safety.

Hi Jon, thanks for participating in this interview. Can you introduce yourself briefly and give us an insight into your work at BRCGS?

Jon Murthy, Head of Global Marketing at BRCGS

Although I am relatively new to BRCGS, I had a close relationship with the business and GFSI having worked for the UK National Accreditation Body and as a member of the IAF Executive for the previous 6 years. I was therefore well-placed to understand the role and future vision of BRCGS and how I could help support that journey.

Since its inception in 1996, BRCGS has grown to become GFSI’s leading certification owner. It has led the way in introducing food safety culture assessments, operating a comprehensive compliance programme to deliver results that brands can trust, and more recently responding to the pandemic by developing a full suite of assurance options.

My role will support BRCGS’ continued journey as the leading brand and consumer protection organisation. With buyer behaviour changing, the relationship between global brands and the customers who support them is being transformed by the rise of the conscientious consumer. Purchase choices are increasingly influenced by lifestyle, health, environmental and ethical considerations as consumers seek assurance about their purchase from sourcing of raw materials to manufacturing and through to point of sale.

This transition will impact supply chains as health-conscious consumers look for 'free-from' product ranges with traceable origins. Food safety concerns may be heightened leading to more focus on assurance. Greater consumer demands may be placed on brands to produce products that are sourced ethically.

From 'free-from' to ethical trade standards, BRCGS will continue to respond to this transition by delivering services that address this complexity, ensuring brand confidence and supply chain assurance.

The pandemic has a major impact on all areas of life. What has changed most for you in the last months?

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on all of us. The restrictions which many countries have put into place have severely impacted many of our customers. We have seen closures of food service outlets and non-food retail, while others have had to manage the safety of their staff and customers, while maintaining supply chain fluidity.

Much of my focus has changed to ensure that we were able to provide clear and regular communication at a time of great uncertainty and changing circumstance. As well as regular webinars, we created a Covid-Hub to keep customers updated and to provide guidance, supporting information and technical content. We have also worked to ensure continued access to essential training through digital technology, and continue to develop our services to allow manufacturers to continue to demonstrate assurance to their customers.

On a personal level, it’s been a pleasure to see my team adapting to the need to work together while being apart. We have daily meetings to keep in touch, and have adapted well to our new working routine.

Which are the biggest issues auditors are facing due to the pandemic?

We have remained in close discussion with our delivery partners and their auditors during the Pandemic. It has been a challenging time for many auditors and I am grateful for their continued support in what has been an incredibly tough year for our industry. I appreciate all the work that our partners and their auditors have achieved in one of the most challenging periods in our recent history.

When the Covid-19 restrictions start to lift, it is likely that a large number of sites will require audits in a relatively short timescale, and as a consequence, auditors and certification bodies will be much busier than normal. Audit arrangement will therefore be more challenging than usual, and we are working to respond to these challenges to assist certification bodies and auditors.

We have developed new solutions to provide reassurance that suppliers are still operating to high safety and quality levels. The introduction of new assurance products, such as a risk assessment approach to extend a certificate, and blended audits using the new GFSI benchmarking requirements on the use of ICT, has required auditors to learn and adopt new approaches.

Over the course of the last few months the BRCGS has launched a number of initiatives for certification. What new options are there and how great is the demand for the new initiatives?

The restrictions applied throughout much of the world to combat the spread of Corona virus have inevitably led to the need to change the way in which audits are conducted. We have launched a number of initiatives either as temporary solutions or permanent new options for certification to provide reassurance that suppliers are still operating to high safety and quality levels.

We have developed a suite of options that can be applied depending on local restrictions and audit history. The available audit options include Onsite Announced/Unannounced Audits, Blended Audits, Certificate Extension, Full Remote Assessment, and a Covid-19 Additional Voluntary Module.

We have worked closely with our International Advisory Boards, which have representatives from global leading brands, they have welcomed these solutions. 

Will the pandemic have a lasting impact on how audits are conducted?  

The need for confidence and supply chain assurance will not diminish. If anything, the pandemic has shown us that it has never been more critical. Covid-19 has required us to develop new and alternative solutions to provide reassurance that suppliers are still operating to high safety and quality levels in order to protect brands and, more importantly, the consumer. And so we have seen the use of remote assessment techniques being adopted into everyday operations at an accelerated rate; whether for corporate oversight, internal audits, supply chain verification or certification audits. There can be no doubt that the successful use of remote techniques in auditing will support successful operations.

Those businesses that embrace remote verification as a new process, and embed it as a tool to support their compliance regime, will be well positioned to improve their future development. Remote auditing has a clear role to play to support assurance when access to a site is not possible or appropriate. However, face to face, in-person auditing remains the most effective and trusted mechanism. This has been confirmed in early feedback from Brands and manufacturers.

It is clear that remote auditing is not a temporary substitute solution that will be cast aside when things return to normal. Remote assessment will likely compliment a physical audit in a more blended approach in order to provide the necessary rigour and confidence. This allows the opportunity for greater efficiency and using the on-site assessment time in the most effective way.

A look into the future: what can we expect from this new decade despite the pandemic, what are the trends and future challenges when it comes to ensuring food safety?

There are a number of drivers that will shape supply chain assurance. The disruption caused by the virus has only seemed to fuel this momentum.

Firstly, we can see that consumers globally are becoming better informed and more demanding, and also more vocal when their expectations are not met. Consumer preferences that are driven by health, lifestyle, sustainable and ethical choices will reshape supply chains. Product safety and integrity will become ever more important to provide consumer confidence when related to provenance, allergenicity and 'free-from' claims, and ethical trading claims. Consumer protection standards will need to evolve so that manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, and of course the consumer, can maintain trust in their products.

Secondly, businesses will learn from the pandemic and adopt improved business resilience plans and supply chain strategies to resist future shocks. Digital technologies, data and analytics will drive supply chain transparency and performance.

Digital supply chain intelligence that offers greater insight into risk profiles, supplier performance trends, and benchmarking analytics will provide a more connected supply chain. At BRCGS, digital thinking and the millions of data points that we have access to, will be woven through the fabric of the business, to transform the way that we deliver brand and consumer protection outcomes.