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26 July 2022 by Uncategorised

Passing audits with flying colours and driving continuous improvement

The word ‘quality’ is often thrown around like confetti, with customers expected to take it on trust that the quality companies talk about will be reflected in their experience.

But, here at Herbert Walkers, quality is not just an adjective; it is a process that is audited and evidenced both in our own approach to continuous improvement and by the third party audits that monitor and measure our performance year on year.

We are audited by both industry bodies to retain our accreditations, and by customers to ensure that we meet their high standards as supply chain partners. The criteria ranges across a huge array of best practice; from hygiene and health and safety, through to how we care for our team and the environment. It results in audits taking place at Herbert Walkers every couple of months, and, while the requirements for each audit vary, the constant readiness to be audited means that we are always striving for the highest standards and embracing opportunities for improvement.

Amongst the accreditation audits we complete each year is SMETA, the Sedex audit that allows customers to verify our ethical performance as part of their due diligence. Assessors spend two days with us, auditing how we look after our team, including rates of pay and holidays, health and safety, welfare, training and contracts. As well as considering the paperwork we provide, the SMETA assessors conduct interviews with members of our team and the strict audit process means that they could arrive at any time during the audit window. Our last SMETA audit was in January 2022 and we achieved zero non-conformities, which is testimony to the achievements of the whole Herbert Walkers team.

Other compliance audits include annual checks for our ISO 9001 quality assurance certification and our ISO 14001 environmental certification. We have held both of these standards for the past 14 years and each assessment considers both certifications at the same time over a four-day audit process. Our next ISO audit is due in October 2022 and we passed the last one with flying colours, with just one minor non-conformity across all criteria for both standards.

Our annual BRC audit is also an important verification of quality and compliance for our customers. This audit focuses on hygiene and confirms to customers that they can expect every item that leaves our print factory to be clean, with full traceability and no contaminants. This is the most stringent of all the audits we do, with every aspect of our cleaning regimes and record keeping assessed in detail.

Alongside the mandatory compliance requirements that support our certifications, we also undergo audits from customers that have strict standards for monitoring their supply chain. For example, Primark carries out annual audits with a similar criteria to SMETA. Meanwhile Lego, for whom we print greetings cards, carry out an annual two-day audit of our print factory, which considers a wide variety of quality performance criteria including workflows, traceability, and hazard management. Following our last audit in May 2022, we achieved a score of 99% from Lego: an unprecedented achievement and one for which the whole Herbert Walkers team can be justly proud.

To achieve those high scores, the audit process has to be more than a scheduled exercise in meeting the criteria for each assessment; it needs to be a culture embedded in our company at every level. Consequently, we have an internal audit schedule that runs in parallel to the external audits across key areas including social value, ethical performance, environmental compliance, and quality best practice. The only way to achieve genuine continuous improvement is to be constantly self-critical and adopt a willingness to learn and develop across every department at every level.

For us, every successful audit is a cause for celebration, because it highlights how well we are achieving the standards we set ourselves, and those set for us by others. But, after the excitement, comes more hard work, because we are only ever as good as our next audit and, when it comes to quality, ethics and environment, there will never be any such thing as job done.

One potential option is for drinks brands to package only premium and seasonal lines with cartons, rather than the whole range, which could have clear commercial and operational benefits.

Firstly, and most obviously, it would enable a reduction in packaging costs for volume products. As production prices rise, due to the increased costs of ingredients and energy, the decision to ditch the carton may deliver product pricing advantages that counter any loss in shelf appeal. For products targeted at the regular drinker, rather than gifting or occasions, price point and availability carry considerable consumer loyalty.

More strategically, it would allow enhanced tiering of product offerings. By losing the carton on ‘commodity’ products, premium products intended for gifting or higher end choices are instantly elevated to something more special. Consumers who may previously have chosen a lower priced product as a gift are more likely to upgrade to the more expensive, boxed bottle. Meanwhile, those who are simply buying for their own consumption will be less concerned with the lack of packaging, and more focused on price. As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, pricing for regular purchases is increasingly important.

Concentrating the use of carton packaging on premium, gifting and seasonal lines also enables better resource planning. If board supply chain challenges continue, channelling available supplies into higher value, higher margin products seems a sensible move.

At Herbert Walkers, we have extensive experience of creating cartons for the drinks sector, including gifting packs, seasonal products and premium lines, with luxury foiled and embossed finishes. There is wide-ranging opportunity to use printing, finishing and interesting formats to achieve stand-out on shelf in this segment of the market and we work closely with both brands and their design agencies to optimise the design while ensuring the carton is commercially viable.

For many drinks companies, the carton continues to be an important part of their products’ value proposition and part of our role is to work with them to mitigate the price volatility and supply chain challenges the global market is experiencing at the moment. As part of that commitment, we have been offering a procure and store service to customers, enabling them to buy board in advance to secure availability and lock in the price point.

Ultimately, our role is not to advise our customers on their packaging strategy, but to collaborate with them to achieve their packaging goals for their products – and that’s a principle that’s just as true for food, confectionary and cosmetics as it is for the drinks industry. It’s our straight-talking approach, innovative one-stop-shop capabilities and technical knowledge that enable us to advise and add value, no matter what trends emerge.

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