Nobody is ready for BRC’s Vulnerability Assessments

30 June, 2015

With supply chains becoming increasingly complicated and food scares very much at the forefront of consumer and retailer consciousness, BRC have moved to introduce Vulnerability Assessments to Version 7 of the standard. The aim is simple, food manufacturers must demonstrate that they have evaluated their supply chain to minimise vulnerability to food fraud.

While increasing efforts to protect the public from the potentially dangerous results of food fraud is a fundamentally good move, the way BRC have defined how best to conduct successful Vulnerability Assessments is at best vague, and at worst currently unachievable for most manufacturers.  Put simply, nobody seems to know what good looks like and until there is a clearer definition of best practice for Vulnerability Assessments, many food manufacturers will be leaving themselves open to the risk of non-conformance.

Lack of understanding aside, there are several other factors which will play a part in the success or lack-thereof of this addition to the BRC Standard. The first of these being that ingredients and suppliers are ever changing. As a result, monitoring and assessing what is being purchased will become a year-round task for all but the smallest processors.

Most technical teams are already stretched to the limits in an attempt to ensure their sites are ready for a range of audits and inspections and this extra burden and hassle may be too much to manage for those with smaller technical teams or a complex range of ingredients. However, using a third party compliance specialist for a full health check of the site’s supply base aligned with follow-up supplier audits can help pinpoint areas of real weakness. In turn this should allow technical staff to focus their resource on improving the areas viewed as most at risk.

Another issue is that approximately 60% of the manufacturers who work with Acoura use a paper based record keeping system for monitoring and logging everything. This includes supplier and ingredient risk assessments and traceability checks. Paper trails like this are often badly managed, out-of-date, and open to interpretation come audit time. Used as part of a full scale Vulnerability Assessment system, there is a real worry that this will result in yet more work for stretched teams and could lead to serious mistakes being made.

The more innovative online compliance platforms can eliminate a lot of this hassle while also improving the user’s ability to spot potential issues before they develop. Those used to recording and cross-referencing through a paper system will be amazed at how much easier having a real time overview of their supply base with specific alerts, data led comparisons and custom risk ratings really is.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that auditors themselves are as unsure of best practice as the manufacturers. As a result there will very likely be a bedding in period where approaches and techniques are evaluated across the industry. For those with an audit due soon this probably means there will be some uncertainty in what will be raised. Don’t expect this to always be the case however.

There’s a very real sense across the industry that Vulnerability Assessments could provide a lot of extra work, which is why those manufacturers who invest in relevant IT compliance systems and dedicate the proper time to monitoring their suppliers and ingredients will now be best placed to meet the challenges waiting a little further on in time.   

Author Stuart Kelly is Managing Director of Acoura's Retail, Food Service and Hospitality Division. To find out more about how Acoura can help your business call us on +44(0)330 024 0255 or email

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