MORE COUNTRIES ADOPT GFSI-ENDORSED STANDARDS

PARIS -- Four years of efforts to encourage the use of global food-safety standards are increasingly benefiting sourcing programs of retailers around the world, according to Richard Fedigan, chief executive officer of CIES -- the Food Business Forum here.The gains are resulting because food-safety standards once confined to one or two countries are now being recognized by wider groups of nations through

PARIS -- Four years of efforts to encourage the use of global food-safety standards are increasingly benefiting sourcing programs of retailers around the world, according to Richard Fedigan, chief executive officer of CIES -- the Food Business Forum here.

The gains are resulting because food-safety standards once confined to one or two countries are now being recognized by wider groups of nations through a coordinated effort.

"Not long ago, the British didn't recognize the French standard and continental Europe didn't recognize the British standard," Fedigan said by way of example. "Now they each recognize each other's standards, and retailers are enjoying the benefits."

Fedigan was interviewed by SN in advance of CIES' annual World Food Business Summit, which will be held this year June 16 to 18 in Rome. CIES is a global organization of food retailers and suppliers.

Supporting the spread of standards is the Global Food Safety Initiative, a program launched in 2000. GFSI first set up criteria to judge existing food-safety standards, and recently has been assessing which standards should be considered compliant with the criteria. Standards previously found compliant include those from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The latest approval is for SQF (Safe Quality Food), a U.S. standard owned and operated by Food Marketing Institute, Washington, through the SQF Institute. Suppliers adopt these standards in order to capture or keep the business of retailers, Fedigan said. The GFSI focus is on suppliers of private-label items and, increasingly, produce. Retailers have an easier job sourcing and auditing manufacturers if they know the suppliers are working with these standards, Fedigan said.

"For example, let's say a U.S. retailer is sourcing shrimp from Thailand," he explained. "The adoption of SQF will help ensure that the product conforms to U.S. quality and standards. It will help U.S. retailers with their sourcing."

GFSI is now beginning to turn attention to supporting food-safety standards for agricultural produce.

"The efforts are gradually extending back up the supply chain to the farms, the primary suppliers," Fedigan said. "Retailers can be more confident that standards conform to a global set of criteria."

Fedigan emphasized that food safety is only one example of his organization's emphasis on standards.

"CIES' new direction is in facilitating common positions globally for retailers on issues ranging from RFID to food safety to nutrition," he said.

CIES has 360 member companies, the majority of which are retailers (46%) and manufacturers (30%).

This year's CIES Summit has adopted the theme "The Meaning of Value," which will be explored in sessions focusing on everything from fair and sustainable trade to the need to re-inspire both consumers and employees.

A top-executive panel focusing on fair and sustainable trade will include John Menzer, president and CEO, Wal-Mart International; Anders Moberg, CEO, Ahold; Manuel Fong Jr., managing director, Supervalue, Philippines; Claude Hauser, chairman of Migros, Switzerland; Mike Moore, former director general of the World Trade Organization and former prime minister of New Zealand; and Vincenzo Tassinari, chairman of Coop Italia. Other sessions will include those on food politics, shifts in the marketplace, and the Italian food business.

Fedigan pointed out that Neville Isdell, the chairman of CIES' summit-planning committee, had expected to come to the event as a consultant to Coca-Cola Co. However, this month he was named to succeed Doug Daft as chairman and chief executive of the company.

In a transition of a different kind, Pierre-Olivier Beckers, president and CEO of Delhaize Group, Brussels, Belgium, will complete his two-year term as chairman of CIES. The new chairman is expected to be Hauser of Migros.

Fedigan said Beckers has made a big impact on the global community during his tenure as chairman.

"Through his quiet authority and intelligence, he was instrumental in rationalizing the association landscape and promoting cooperation and common agendas," Fedigan said.

Beckers played a big role in reshaping the Global Forum, a top-executive event jointly sponsored by a number of associations, to become a forum for producing action plans rather than just discussing issues, Fedigan said.

Also at the Rome summit, CIES will diversify its board by adding some younger executives and representation from additional countries.

In planning its events, CIES is aware that daily headlines about terrorism can have an impact on trade show attendance, Fedigan conceded. Nevertheless, he pointed to a very strong response to this year's summit that is expected to result in a higher attendance than last year's event in Barcelona. By late May, CIES was expecting 850 attendees (35% being retailers, which is on target with plans) from 42 countries.

CIES is carrying the values theme into many of its events this year. Its Future Leaders Annual Congress in Prague, scheduled for Oct. 23 to 26, is titled, "What Do Customers Really Value?" The CIES Marketing Forum in London, set for Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, is called "Conflicting Strategies for Value Growth."