Interesting to see that Tesco have just made a huge public apology across the UK about how it has let it’s customers down with horse meat in beef products. There’s no doubt that the CEO of Tesco must be wringing his hands with despair over this issue, with the company’s reputation and share price taking a further nose dive as a result of the scandal.
There is also no doubt in my mind that a majority of honest, hard working businesses in food supply have been damaged by the murky practices of a minority – not to mention an expected reduction in beef consumption that will affect farmers.
But what has lean got to say or do about this? We are not a law enforcement office, of course, but we can begin to shape a lean perspective on the issue.
I believe that one of the reasons that this type of practice exists is due to the complexity of the many food value streams that create common food products.
Lean talks about ‘making the offering flow, without rework, waste and delay’ while ensuring that ‘every step focuses on adding value to the ultimate consumer’.
There are great examples of our food value streams that are appealingly simple – from primary producer to consumer in a minimum of steps. A great example of this would be fresh shrimp and langoustine direct from trawler to store.
Many are a far cry from this, with multiple organisations involved in processing and storing materials and much of what is used, particularly in the lower price point products, traded as a commodity – all of this activity adds complexity and in our terms ‘waste’ associated largely with handling, storage and movement. And that’s not taking into account the extra carbon used to fuel these complex value streams.
Sadly often the reaction to such scandals is to put in place more stringent checks, rather than learning how to build safety and quality into the process. Einstein taught us that you cannot solve problems with the same mentality that created them in the first place. The food industry has to finally wake up and embrace the modern system of management thought espoused by Deming.
So what to do about it? It is often very revealing to take a ‘whole value stream’ view and, using the Value Stream toolkit, get to the bottom of the actual practices and complexity that characterise the value stream for a typical product.
As lean practitioners we would encourage our retailers to really get into the detail of the end to end model, invest in taking an holistic view and, in doing so, learn more about how the product is made and how to make it simpler thereby avoiding the type of damaging incidents for brands, share prices, reputations and consumer confidence that we’ve recently witnessed.