Documents a vital ingredient

I recently played cricket at another local village where the farmer had donated a field to the local cricket club. He had been very much involved in the club himself and played for years but was now the scorer. My innings was brief and I was soon nominated to be our scorer. We soon began chatting and he asked me where, in my village, I bought my beef. My answer to the local supermarket was not the right response and he mentioned that he was the supplier to my local butcher. Our local butcher has a great reputation for quality and so I had no reasonable defence to offer when the farmer mentioned the term “provenance”. Was I concerned? Had I heard of the horse meat scandal? Did I know where my food came from? Well er yes, but my purchasing habits suggested otherwise. So there was more than one sticky wicket being played on that day.

As the bulls, nonchalantly wandered around the electric fence that separated the cricket pitch from the grazing land my thoughts wandered. Back in the day, we knew where our food came from because we were near the source of supply, nowadays the supply chain was much longer, I was sitting next to the exception, not the rule.

Some weeks later I returned to the subject in a conversation with one of our salespeople. He told me the primary concerns of food processing companies were tight margins and quality. Providing all the documents to support provenance was a major cost to the business and proof of provenance was all about quality which is a key marketing asset in terms of generating business.

This was illustrated to me again on a recent drive to work when Radio 5, as part of their Scottish Open golf coverage, featured a Scottish cheese maker. He was exporting his cheese to Dubai and was asked whether his cheese was successfully exported because of the flavour or because of the brand. He replied that the Isle of Arran brand was the key factor in his ability to sell his cheese in Dubai, lots of people made good quality cheese but that brand was his differentiator. This started me thinking how much was he investing in proof of provenance and how could he spend this most effectively.

During a discussion with our CTO he explained that the chain of custody from the field or ingredient factory to the consumer has become long, complex and international. In establishing food provenance, growers, ingredient manufacturers, distributors, processors and retailers all need to play their part in the evidential chain. The need for trust and confidence in our food supply, “provenance”, drives the need for proper management of records right along the chain which can be expensive if done inefficiently. Key documentation such as Specifications of Manufacture, Certificates of Authenticity and batch quality documentation must be kept and in some cases refreshed. Access to price lists, agreements and product information can be key to making sure that the deals are being done competitively but with sufficient profitability to be sustainable. He believes the most cost-effective way to do this is to integrate effective document management technology into their operational systems, so that good information practice is not just built into their everyday work and systems but also enhances them with rapid access to detailed information at the point it is needed.

The reputation of the food industry has been tarnished recently by scandals, committed by a few at the expense of the many participants in that trade. In my view, the majority of participants in the industry have the same passion for provenance as the farmer and the cheesemaker and so they happily incur the costs of proving it. Those costs can be diminished and profitability improved through the integration of effective document management technology with operational systems.

If you would like to know how, please contact us at