An analysis of food quality benchmarking

We've just concluded the first year of fresh produce quality benchmarking, so it seems a good time to take a look at the data to see what it tells us about the last year in fresh produce. Should you be unaware of the process, we've been purchasing around 50 items of fresh produce from 5 different retailers every fortnight for the past 12 months. 

Those products are being assessed for quality, using only the criteria that we would consider to be completely industry standard.

This means, for example, that we are counting the presence of mould or rot as a defect, but not necessarily the shape or colour of the product, as we are not working to specifications. Likewise, any product showing clear signs of age, significant damage, or failing to meet a stated minimum weight on the packaging are all counted as failing our ‘standard’ quality specification. If you are interested in knowing more about our process you can find out by getting in touch.

 

Food Quality Waste Defects

 

The headline data after 12 months is that 11% of our sample showed a defect of some sort. As this is the first year of the process, we are not going to spend too much time considering whether this is a good or a bad result, but only to say that based on our commercial quality inspection activities, it is perhaps just a couple of percentage points lower than we would have expected. What will be interesting is now to see how that standard continues through 2015.

What is worth noting from the outset, is that that figure of 11% does not equate to the expected wastage levels. Not all of the items that we have considered defective will result in waste, they are simply products which do not meet an expected standard of quality, and which will in some way mean that the consumer is not getting exactly what they are paying for. To come to a conclusion on what is likely to be a wastage figure, we need to look a little more closely at the data we have generated.

 

Food Quality Waste Defects

 

Not all of the types of defect we found are going to lead to wastage automatically, but it is likely that fresh produce that is showing mould/rot, splits, damage, bruising and significant signs of age are all going to either end up wasted, or having a greatly reduced shelf life once purchased. These defects contributed approximately 60% of all defects found. We always like to stick to data wherever possible and avoid making judgement calls, but to assess what percentage of the products affected by these defects are likely to have been wasted, the quality inspectors responsible for carrying out these benchmarking inspections have made the following assessment:

  • A minimum of 50% of products affected by mould and rot will be wasted, on the assumption that many households will be willing to pick out affected produce from a punnet, or to trim away affected areas of larger items.
  • Only a small percentage of produce affected by splits will be wasted. We estimate that only 10% of that category will have been rendered un-useable.
  • Damage and bruising includes a high ratio of products such as apples, which are prone to small bruises in-store by staff and customer handling. Our data tells us that where items have been more significantly damaged, such as mechanical harvest damage to onions and carrots, we have scored down these packs when over 10% of the pack is affected. If the category is split evenly between bruising and damage, then we can say that as a minimum 10% of all downgraded items affected by damage will be wasted.
  • Within the age category we have only counted products which are dehydrated, discoloured or otherwise showing significant deterioration. We would anticipate wastage here to be higher, perhaps amounting to 70% of the total based on a review of our photographic evidence.

Based on the above assumptions, we can conclude that of all downgraded items, around 26% is likely to have ended up wasted. With 11% of our sample affected by defects of some sort, that equates to 2.86% of our total sample.

How this may apply to your business will vary depending on the sector of the food industry. If you are in retail, this data can be directly comparable to your own levels of waste or internal quality assessments. No matter what sector you operate in (catering, leisure, restaurants etc), it is worth noting that if you are assessing quality at a point of central distribution our experience would suggest that your quality should be several percentage points higher than this, but roughly comparable if you are conducting ‘back door’ quality checks. If you are not carrying out regular spot checks on quality, then you can of course get us to do this for you and we will prepare you a report that allows you to benchmark your fresh produce against this study.