Fresh Hub – The Produce Industry Newsletter

Fresh Hub is The AgriChain Centre’s own regular communication tool for Food Businesses & Produce Handlers. We aim to inform and assist produce staff in understanding how to handle the produce to be sure it reaches the consumer in the optimum condition to ensure repeat sales. We also provide the latest developments in the area of Food Safety & Quality, Survey and IVA and assist in understanding how food businesses can satisfy all requirements.

Click here to view our archive of previous newsletters, or scroll down to view the latest news articles.

FRESH HUB 21 October 2020

In this edition we examine the theme of Food Safety with a spotlight on the importance of getting procedures right.

C.S.T.S.Y.B. – Reconsidering Tom Ah Chee’s Operating Credo

When I joined Foodtown in the latter part of the last century (don’t you just love the way that sounds?), prior to the eighties’ share market boom and subsequent crash, company founder Tom Ah Chee had already retired. The business was however still adhering to the principles he had fashioned and insisted upon, with his presence still very much in evidence.

In those days, prior to emails and computers, when letters were still being produced on a typewriter, every internal memo was concluded with the initials C.S.T.S.Y.B. underneath the signature of the writer.

I tried for a while without success to figure out what these letters stood for and eventually asked one of the old-timers, who was absolutely horrified that this topic had not been covered during my induction phase into the company. Listening to his dismay, one would have been forgiven for thinking that the world had ended.

C.S.T.S.Y.B., I was told, stood for Constantly Striving To Serve You Better.

It summed up the operating credo of the fledgling Foodtown chain as Tom Ah Chee and his collaborators expanded from their first Otahuhu store, to what had become a 27-store empire by the time I joined.

C.S.T.S.Y.B. was a brilliant way of enshrining some very fundamental truths, namely: that the job is never done, there is always room for improvement, providing good service has to be part of the underlying business philosophy and acknowledgement of the fact that the customer has a choice when it comes to quality and service. Businesses today could do a lot worse than adopting Tom Ah Chee’s philosophy. The customer often misses out these days.

Quality and Service mean different things to different people. Within a fresh produce quality context, I suggest that attention to detail in the following areas constitutes good service:

  • Only produce ready to be harvested is taken from the tree or vine, plucked from the bush or dug from the ground.
  • The packaging complements the product and causes no damage.
  • The PLU sticker on the fruit, the weight on the punnet, or the barcode on the pack or sleeve are accurately matched to the product.
  • Whoever sends the produce onto its journey into a retail outlet, and ultimately to the consumer, understands the vagrancies of this journey. Consumers are typically looking for produce that is either ready to eat or can survive three days in fruit bowl, fridge or pantry with grace. Anything outside these parameters, with the odd exception (e.g. potatoes, onions and kumara), and customers believe that someone is playing Russian Roulette with produce quality. Not good for repeat business.
  • If in doubt – grade it out!

Whether you stick to my list or use your own – it pays to remember that customers do have choices and that, particularly in the case of fresh produce quality, there is always someone around the corner who offers an alternative.
Dr Hans Maurer

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The Importance of Getting Procedures Right

The above article explains how setting the culture of an organisation provides the footing for customer service. The question arises, is how do you set the culture and expectations of your processes for your employees?

At their simplest, procedures provide consistency to all activities performed by staff (e.g. inspecting a product, writing a report, communicating with clients etc.).

Putting a procedure in writing seems relatively simple, as procedures are a set of “step by step” instructions, describing how to perform a task/action to achieve an intended outcome. Yet I am sure most people have sat there at the end and gone – how did they do that? That’s not what I expected?

So how do you write procedures in such a way that your staff can easily understand and follow them as you intend?

When writing procedures, consider the following:

  • Who is your audience? What does the audience need to understand?
  • As the writer, what are you trying to convey to the audience?
  • What is the purpose of the document?
  • Consider how much jargon is included. Are definitions needed?
  • Does the document match and fit in with the other documents of related procedures, so that your staff can read the documents and understand how the documents (and procedures) fit together?
  • Should you use diagrams or pictures to show concepts/tasks that are hard to convey in writing? E.g., pictures of a control panel to show the appropriate buttons.
  • Does the document match/support any training staff have been given, or is the document sufficiently detailed to act as training materials by itself?
  • Is the document a living document (Revised in parallel with the procedure, to ensure that the document always accurately reflects procedure)?

However, even when procedures are followed to the letter, outcomes may differ from what was intended. This variation is usually caused by the way each user interprets what was written in the procedure, and how they follow the instructions. It is therefore important to remember procedures are living documents and revisions are needed. Can you undertake a moderation session as a team building opportunity to gain user input?

When writing down your procedures, pretend to be a new employee with no knowledge of the task or the intended outcome, and try to write the procedure in a way that the new employee can follow. If a new employee can understand the procedure, then trained staff will as well.

At the end of the day a procedure is usually developed to ensure compliance with a standard or regulation, but the everyday user is the one that needs to implement the required actions.

If you have any questions in relation to developing or implementing procedures, please contact Anne-Marie Arts on 027 279 5550 or email amarts@agrichain-centre.com.

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Relevant Links for Information on Getting Operating Procedures Right

  • Business.govt.nz offers insights into the importance of policies and procedures as tools for managing employees. You can read the full article here.
  • This 2013 Harvard Business Review examines the perception that standard operating procedures are a strait jacket that limits their flexibility. Yet in our increasingly complex world of work, with so many possible decisions and steps, clever use of standards can liberate. You can read the full article here. 
  • This blog looks at the topic of “Are Your Policies and Procedures a Barrier To Growing Your Company?” Basically, policies and procedures allow management to guide operations without constant management intervention. As constant intervention equates to increased operating expenses that ultimately detract from your company’s profitability. You can read the full article here.
  • Short video demonstrating the keys points of designing and testing a standard operating procedure can be viewed here.

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Fresh Hub newsletter (PDF) archives:

IVA & Survey – 24 September 2020

Food Safety – 02 September 2020

Food Safety – 19 August 2020

Food Safety – 06 August 2020

IVA & Survey – 23 July 2020

IVA & Survey – 08 July 2020

IVA & Survey – 24 June 2020

Food Safety – 10 June 2020

Food Safety – 26 May 2020

Food Safety – 20 April 2020

Food Safety – 09 April 2020

IVA & Survey – February 2020

Fruit Fly – February 2020

Summerfruit – November 2019

Food Safety – November 2019

IVA & Survey – October 2019

Food Safety – October 2019

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