FoodExperts, a Spanish agri-food tech company, was awarded the International Prize for Excellence in Innovation 2014 in recognition of its system to monitor produce quality. The award was presented by International Procurement & Logistics Ltd. (IPL), the UK's largest importer of produce (which is owned by retail giant Walmart). Nazario Muñoz-Fernández, Owner-Partner of FoodExperts, tells us about the system.
Gemma Fernández. Journalist. @gemmafdz
What is FoodExperts?
FoodExperts is a Spanish company which provides technological services to the fruit and vegetable supply chain, connecting suppliers and clients. Since inception eight years ago, the company has worked with major European distributors and their suppliers, in Spain and worldwide, developing innovative products and new services.
FoodExperts was distinguished by UK company IPL (owned by Walmart in the US) for its produce monitoring system. How does it work?
It's a new and different system which aims to enhance the relationship of trust between the supplier and the client. If offers a novel and more effective way of monitoring chemical residues on products, exchanging technical information, and enhancing trust in the supply chain.
What does this award mean for the company?
This reflects very well on FoodExperts, and will surely inspire potential clients to "get out of their comfort zone", overcome their fear of change and implement new strategies for monitoring and exchanging information with the supply chain.
What needs did you identify in the agri-food sector that led you to create this system?
We saw a need for large retailers, especially in northern Europe, to not only comply with legal requirements (Maximum Residue Limits), but also to respond to pressure from end users to reduce chemical residues on products and the use of pesticides on crops.
With FoodExperts' monitoring system, there are fewer controls but they are more effective, with the result that a single analysis at any stage of the chain can be used by all supply chain participants.
How is produce monitored?
The residue control system is based on the concept that analyses are reliable and should be trusted by all parties, with a view to avoiding repeat testing. To that end, the process includes an analysis of each supplier's individual risks, sample-taking, a double-blind system where the producer doesn't know beforehand which lab will analyze the sample and vice versa, technical validation by the labs, careful selection of the materials to be analyzed, and transparent management of data. This increases transparency and safety and builds trust.
What does this platform offer the agri-food sector and what impact will it have on exports of Spanish fruits and vegetables?
It generates trust and transparency. Spanish producers must reinforce relationships based on trust with their foreign clients. Quality, service and trust must be the basis for commercial relations.
In your experience, how does Spain rank in terms of quality control of its produce compared with other countries where it operates?
Compared with other European producers, Spain has quality controls that are just as good if not better. Unfortunately, that's not the perception in some of our main markets.
Your company has plans for growth. Where would you like to have a presence?
We want to cover the main producing countries that supply to Europe. We already operate in seven countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, and we want to expand into important producer countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Chile.
What milestones has the agri-food sector achieved with the help of FoodExperts?
Performing controls at the source has avoided the rejection of dozens of products at the destination. This is a major advantage for producers, who have more wiggle room and better options for managing incidents and products, and for clients, who don't have any problems with product shortages.
One of the greatest success stories with the FoodExperts system occurred in January 2011, when European countries stopped importing Spanish peppers. Most markets stopped buying them due to a warning that ethephon residues exceeded the legal limits. The FoodExperts system was able to maintain the trust that had been established, reacting very quickly with both technical and communication plans. As a result, the farmers who worked with us were able to continue selling their peppers during the crisis.
What are the next steps the company will take with this system?
We will provide coverage in additional countries and production zones and increase our client portfolio with this residue control system. Additionally, we are gong to make a major change to the online platform to include new functions that are useful for producers and importers, and develop sustainability metrics and indicators.