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What is the aim of the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme?
HARPS will reduce the costs (and stress!) associated with the adoption, maintenance and auditing of multiple food safety systems by individual suppliers to multiple retail customers in Australia. One audit visit, against a base scheme plus HARPS, means a direct vendor can supply multiple retail customers. Note that retailers always reserve the right to decide who they source from.
Why is HARPS being introduced?
Australia’s five leading grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Costco, Metcash (IGA) and Woolworths) have had different food safety system requirements of their vendors. For suppliers to multiple retailers, this means numerous standards being audited, mostly but not necessarily concurrently. The need to implement, maintain and be audited to multiple systems that are largely similar, including bespoke additional requirements, is time consuming, stressful and expensive. Furthermore, the availability of auditors is under pressure because many auditors also find the process of auditing multiple systems to be stressful and complex. By having one audit, to a base scheme plus HARPS, to supply all retail customers, this initiative will lower the cost of doing business, provide greater efficiencies in quality assurance and improve food safety outcomes across the entire fresh produce supply chain. It will also have positive outcomes for the certification sector such as greater auditor retention.
Who operates / manages the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme?
Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (HIA) initiated the project in August 2012 at the request of industry. The Produce Marketing Association Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ) is the agreed entity accountable for the ongoing management and facilitation of the scheme on behalf of the Stakeholder Working Group. The Stakeholder Working Group comprises representatives of the participating retailers. Management of HARPS is currently transitioning from the project consultants to PMA A-NZ. The transition will be concluded at the end of the HIA project to implement the scheme.
When will retailers request HARPS as a requirement for supply?
The expectation is that audits of Australian Direct Suppliers, subcontractors and co-packers* against a base scheme plus HARPS will commence from 1st October 2016 and that all direct, subcontract and copacker suppliers will have transitioned to base scheme plus HARPS by 1st January 2018. Indirect suppliers are not required to implement HARPS but are still required to be certified to an approved food safety standard.
What specific industry scopes does the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme relate to?
The Scheme is voluntary and open to those who perform the following activities:
- Grow produce for retail sale
- Pack produce for retail sale
- Operate as an aggregator, distributor, broker or agent supplying produce for retail sale
- Are a direct supplier, a subcontract supplier or a co-packer
What products are in scope of the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme?
The scope of the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme includes the growing and packing of whole produce for retail sale. HARPS does not include processing or value-adding of produce. The product scope definition is aligned with Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Industry Scopes B1 – Primary Production (Module 1) and D – Packing.
What is the estimated cost saving to industry?
The annual cost saving (direct and indirect costs) to growers, packers and intermediaries through the introduction of a harmonised standard is estimated at A$40.3 million/ year.
Which retailers have committed to the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme?
ALDI, Coles, Costco, Metcash (IGA) and Woolworths.
What is the GFSI standard?
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) has developed a benchmark standard for food safety certification that reflects global best practice in food safety management. Businesses are not certified against this standard. Existing food safety standards can be benchmarked against the GFSI standard. If a standard meets the GFSI benchmark it is regarded as being ‘GFSI equivalent’. This work is accomplished through collaboration between the world’s leading food safety experts from production, retail, manufacturing and food service companies, as well as international organisations, governments, academia and service providers to the global food industry. GFSI is facilitated by The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a global food industry network.
What is a ‘base scheme’?
A base scheme is one that the HARPS Stakeholder Working Group has agreed will form the basis of Certification and supply to the retailers. A base scheme must be a GFSI equivalent standard (*or provisionally accepted in the case of Freshcare, in recognition of substantial progress towards achieving GFSI equivalence).
What are the acceptable “base schemes”?
What does the new harmonised standard look like, what’s in it?
The Harmonised Standard includes the elements that retailers had added over the years that were over and above the GFSI benchmark standard. For example, for Coles these elements were embedded in the Coles Supplier Requirements; for Woolworths, they were included in the Woolworths Quality Assurance Produce Standard. The Stakeholder Working Group members have agreed on wording that reduces well over 200 additional elements to around 60. These are not new elements but a harmonisation of the wording of many existing elements that had similar meaning and intent.
Who will be conducting my audits in the future?
Retailers ultimately decide who can and cannot perform audits of their vendors. Retailers are currently cooperating to ensure that vendors have a choice for base scheme plus HARPS audits from a range of Certification Bodies. Industry will be notified of acceptable Certification Bodies when agreed. This is a current priority. The HARPS Scheme Rules will also contain information regarding approved Certification Bodies.
How long will my audit take?
As an indication only, your base scheme plus HARPS audit should take no longer than a current audit to one retail customer. If you are currently certified to multiple schemes, there should be a corresponding reduction in audit time.
What will this do to the cost of my audits?
This depends on your current situation. If you are currently audited to multiple schemes for multiple customers, your audit duration will reduce, hence your audit costs will also reduce. By rationalising the number of certifications, you may also reduce administration and other costs.
What about produce that is imported and sold on the domestic market?
The HARPS Working Group members are currently identifying the most robust solution to extend HARPS to direct, subcontract and co-packer supply of imported produce. Given the current landscape, whereby the overwhelming majority of produce is sourced locally for retailers, the Stakeholder Working Group has identified that local produce will be the priority but that imports will follow.
What if I export and my export customers want another scheme?
The Stakeholder Working Group retailers have deliberately chosen base schemes that are equivalent to the Global Food Safety Initiative benchmark standard (or substantially progressed as for Freshcare). Growers and packers should remind export customers that, depending on scope, these schemes are equivalent to the global benchmark and that there is no food safety outcome advantage to be gained in implementing another scheme. Conversely, if an export customer insists on a particular scheme that is one of the four base schemes nominated by Australian retailers, speak to your retail customer/s to see if a switch will have any impact on supply arrangements.
My business is currently certified to Codex HACCP – what does this mean for me?
Certification to Codex HACCP is not currently acceptable for direct, subcontract or co-packer vendors, but it has been acceptable for indirect vendors. For Indirect vendors, Codex HACCP will no longer be accepted by the Australian retailers participating in this arrangement after 1st January 2019. Indirect vendors will be required to transition from Codex HACCP to one of the approved GFSI base schemes applicable to the scope of your businesses activities.
Why do we need to use a primary benchmark certification if HARPS scope covers growing to packing and is accepted by the major retailer?
HARPS includes a set of criteria that all participating retailers have agreed upon that have existed in their own specific schemes, i.e. the Coles (CSR) Supplier Requirements, and in WQA. This criteria sits outside of the 4 approved schemes (BRC, SQF, Freshcare and GLOBALG.A.P.). At the commencement of this project there were in excess of 200 requirements that were additional to the base schemes the retailers had included into their own specific requirements, however throughout the HARPS workshops we have agreed on approximately 60 requirements that still sit outside of the 4 schemes mentioned above. This does include those specific to growing – therefore if you are not a grower – there will be less than 60 requirements for your business. The HARPS standard includes areas such as labelling and packaging, retention samples, specifications, control of foreign objects etc – much like those you will see in the base scheme however they are generally more prescriptive than those you will find in the base schemes – and of course agreed to by all retailers.
Are potted or sleeved herbs in scope?
Yes both potted and sleeved herbs are in scope for HARPS.
Direct supplier/vendor: A supplier that has a direct commercial relationship with the customers using the Australian Retailer Fresh Produce Scheme and HCR Standard. Requires HARPS.
Subcontractor supplier/Co-packer supplier: An external party supplying any product under contract to a Direct Supplier or other Sub-Contractor /Co-Packer, which is exclusively for the customers of the HCRs/Australian Retailer Standard. Requires HARPS.
Direct site: The site/s where produce is packed in the final retail packaging. Includes direct suppliers, subcontractors and co-packers. Requires HARPS.
Indirect supplier: A primary producer / grower, supplying bulk product for further handling and/or packing by a Direct Supplier or Sub-Contractor/Co-Packer. Does not require HARPS.
Indirect site: Site that grows, stores, transports or conducts any further service-related activities on behalf of the direct supplier. Does not require HARPS.