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Audit overload: Ideas for saving time while maintaining high standards

We all want high standards when it comes to fresh produce. It’s something that sets British apples and pears apart from the rest of the world. Audits are an important way to ensure there is independent endorsement of the high standards and ethical practices apple and pear growers follow.

However, there is a serious risk that the top fruit industry is facing audit overload and duplication. The audit burden is doing nothing to maintain standards, but everything to waste time and money.

Here’s an insight into the audit situation for apple and pear growers, together with some ideas for a more efficient, but equally effective, way forward.

 
What audits apply to apple and pear growers?

The exact details of the audits each grower undertakes varies by farmer and the requirements of their supermarket customers, but the following are very typical:

Red Tractor checks every element of work on the farm from planting to harvest and storage. It will also cover pesticide storage and equipment, the tidiness of farm and the quality of accommodation. It requires documentation about water and energy use and even specifies the number of toilets for staff. Typically, the Red Tractor audit preparation takes five days and the audit itself one day. However, the audit will take longer if there are multiple sites or farms. The documentation often runs to hundreds of pages and there is significant overlap with the BRC audit (see below) when it comes to packhouses and cold stores.

LEAF focuses on sustainable farming and has more than 70 control points that growers need to undertake, document and evidence. LEAF covers many of the same areas as the Red Tractor scheme, including soil management, energy efficiency and water management. The audit for LEAF accreditation usually takes around eight hours to prepare and the audit itself is added onto the Red Tractor audit. In terms of evidence, LEAF requires just as much evidence as the Red Tractor audit but with a greater emphasis on the environment, carbon footprints and waste.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) audit for food safety, as the name suggests, is about food safety. It covers policies, training, identification of potential hazards, completing records and internal audits, as well as traceability, complaint handling and product packaging, inspection and testing. These audits are usually unannounced, so preparation is ongoing. There are also peaks of activity reviewing documentation when BRC standards are changed – which typically happens every four years. During an audit, the BRC team usually spends two or three days on the farm and the related paperwork for the grower runs to 100s of pages.

SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) is a check on ethical operations. It covers labour standards as well as health and safety. This audit is typically required every three years and it takes one day, with significant preparation required by the grower.

GRASP audits focus on worker health, safety, and welfare. This annual audit covers social practices such as labour rights and worker protection. These audits take around three hours and require dozens of pages of documentation. The main issue concerning GRASP audits is that they are conducted at peak labour usage time. That means having auditors on the farm during the very busy harvest. GRASP audits are an annual alternative to the three-year SMETA requirement.

The ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) is about providing evidence (it’s not strictly an audit) of a commitment to ethical trade. This is a continuous commitment which is completed using the Sedex Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). The questionnaire takes more than a day to complete and is getting increasingly onerous for growers, with lots of crossover with other audits.  Most supermarkets want Sedex SAQs undertaken annually or even twice a year. 

There are also Home Office (often unannounced) visits to check policies, HR files and records, as well as staff training in relation to visiting seasonal workers. These visits can take one or several days depending on the number of seasonal staff employed by the business.

Labour provider audits. All farms must use a licensed permit operator agency to fill vacant seasonal worker jobs. They operate a bit like recruitment agencies. These providers also come on to farms to check the conditions of employment and accommodation for seasonal workers. These checks usually take one or a number of days for each labour provider. There are also lots of documents that must be submitted before the audit takes place. These are required under the government seasonal worker visa scheme. Most larger farms use a number of different labour providers which means several audits covering the same things.

Grower audit of labour providers. Just as the labour providers audit the farms, our growers have a responsibility to audit their labour providers to check that workers have been recruited properly, that there are no poor recruitment practices, and that the recruitment process meets the guidelines of the seasonal workers visa scheme.

Customer unannounced audits. Supermarkets don’t just rely on the results of all the above audits, they often conduct their own audits too. These tend to be unannounced. They typically take ten hours and involve three people from the packhouse and farm. Each apple and pear grower might work with three or more supermarkets and each one sends in their own audit team for similar audits.  The audits can be annual or every three years, depending on the supermarket concerned and the previous audit scores for the farm. Much of the content of the supermarket audits is the same as the BRC audit.

Beyond the above, there are also farm specific audits, such as the Soil Association Organics audit for our organic farmers. Packhouses who pack organic products also have an annual inspection, during which all documents that are covered during the BRC audit are inspected again. Marketing desks also conduct grower due diligence to make sure growers have all been audited correctly, all of which is already available on Sedex.

In short, there are a lot of audits, and a lot of duplication in those audits.

One of the reasons there are so many overlapping audits is the slightly different audit requirements set by supermarkets. There is no coordination to ensure that audit requirements are standard across retailers.

Not only is there duplication across audits, most audits are also undertaken every year, asking the same questions – and getting the same answers – again and again. A school that receives a good or outstanding OFSTED inspection will be inspected every 4 years or so, a school that requires improvement will be inspected every 2.5 years. That’s not the situation for top fruit growers. Even if they have been consistently meeting all the audit requirements, there is no flexibility, and they will still be fully audited every year.

 
Here’s what our growers say about the audit burden:

Tom Hulme, director, AC Hulme & Sons:

“We want audits because we want to be able to demonstrate that we are operating at the highest possible standards. The issue is that there is so much duplication. Of the nine audits we are subject to, four cover our packing activities, all nine review our policies and procedures and five cover almost exactly the same elements of worker safety.”

Ross Goatham, managing director, A C Goatham & Son:

“Just five years ago, one person managed all our auditing preparation. Now we have to employ three people full time and we also need part time assistance from upwards of 12 more people from various areas of the business across the course of the year. The total hours spent managing audits now exceeds 7,500 annually. With profit margins so tight, the audit burden is really costing us.”

James Simpson, managing director, Adrian Scripps Ltd

“There is so much audit duplication. If the supermarkets could take more of a joined-up approach and agree one suite of audits that would save a lot of time and money.”

 
The NFU’s view of fresh produce audits:

BAPL is not the only organisation raising the issue of the audit burden, Martin Emmett, chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board said, “We need audits to become more consolidated.  Our members are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of assurance schemes required by their customers. Duplication is creating significant cost and resource challenges for growers yet delivers no added value.

“In particular, there needs to be significantly more effort to reduce the burden on growers who have clearly demonstrated that they run operations that meet the high standards required of them.

“Finally, we want to see a willingness from assurance schemes to avoid building in standards which are covered elsewhere in the market.”

 
BAPL recommendations

To help our growers focus on the important job of growing delicious safe fruit and, at the same time, ensure that high standards are maintained, BAPL is recommending that supermarkets agree one suite of audits for all apple and pear growers.

We are also asking assurance schemes to adopt an OFSTED-style approach to audit timing, so that consistent high performers are recognised as requiring a lighter touch.

We want to be audited, but we don’t want to waste time repeating the same audits in slightly different formats. We believe that with some simple coordination and recognition of repeatedly demonstrated high standards we can reduce the red tape audit burden on growers without any compromise on safety and quality.

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BAPL responds to BRC comments on BBC Countryfile

On Sunday 24 September 2023, BBC Countryfile broadcast a segment on the dire state of the British apple industry.

Two British apple growers shared their personal experiences of the challenges they face and how low supermarket returns are causing them to make a loss and remove some orchards.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, spoke to Countryfile on behalf of the supermarkets. However, his comments have been criticised by members of British Apples & Pears Limited (BAPL).

“Andrew Opie said that supermarkets were keeping prices low and implied that’s why they couldn’t pay growers a fair return. That’s simply not true.” Said Ali Capper, executive chair of BAPL. “Shoppers are already paying more – 17% more for British apples in UK supermarkets. It appears retailers have increased the prices of apples and pears to cover their increased costs, but not the increased costs of their suppliers. Someone is making a profit, but it’s not growers.”

New data released by BAPL, exposes the dramatic shift in the fortunes of British apple and pear growers. BAPL has analysed the published business results of a number of growers that together represent over 70% of the British apple and pear industry. This analysis shows a dramatic drop in profitability.

Across six major growers the average level of profits has declined by 133%. This means that each of these representative businesses has suffered a very significant reduction in profit with many incurring substantial losses. This was inevitable because while the price of apples to the consumer has increased, input cost inflation to growers ran at around 23% while supermarkets paid growers, on average, only 0.8% more than the previous year.

BAPL growers were also surprised by Opie’s remarks that supermarkets are fully supportive of British fresh produce.

“Talk is cheap.” Said Ali Capper. “For the BRC to claim that retailers are ‘100% invested in our British supply chain’ is disingenuous at best. The numbers do not lie. Apple growers are not receiving a fair return from supermarkets. This is putting the future of British apple growing at risk. It’s a situation that must change and change quickly.

“If retailers really were ‘doing their best to ensure a sustainable future’ as Andrew Opie claims, we would not see farmers pulling out of apple growing and reducing the numbers of new trees they’re planning on planting.”

BAPL was also surprised to hear Andrew Opie ask the government for additional support for the industry. “Shoppers are already paying more for their fresh produce.” Explained Ali Capper. “We don’t want them to have to pay higher taxes to support the industry as well. We want profit-led investment by growers, but that requires a fair return from supermarkets.”

Below: Listen to Ali Capper’s response to Andrew Opie on behalf of British Apples & Pears Limited

Notes: 

Data points above based on 2022 crop. The 2023 crop is currently being picked and supermarkets are still negotiating prices.

Profit data above from an analysis of published company accounts for six large growers comparing financial years ending 2021 with financial years ending 2022.

Sources for other data points from ONS, NFU and BAPL sources available in the following published BAPL paper: BAPL submission to EFRA Committee – Fairness in the Supply Chain


Media coverage for this news included:

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BAPL EFRA inquiry response

At the end of July 2023, British Apples & Pears Limited submitted a response to the EFRA Committee inquiry on fairness in the food supply chain.

Read the BAPL written evidence.

This eight-page BAPL response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry sets out BAPL members’ experiences of the food supply chain and includes clear proposals for improving the health and sustainability of the sector.

Visit the EFRA Committee website for more details on this inquiry.

 
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BAPL retailer webinar

On 16th May 2023, BAPL held its annual retailer webinar.

BAPL executive chair, Ali Capper, provided an update on:

  • Recent sales and market share data
  • Plans to reinvigorate the apple and pear category
  • Energy costs and inflation

A grower panel discussion then followed the presentation to enable retailer questions to be answered.

View the slides from the BAPL retailer webinar

The food industry faces many challenges and it was acknowledged that this is a critical time for everyone to come together to ensure that British consumers have the access they want to nutritious and delicious British apples and pears.

 

 

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BAPL House of Lords Horticulture Committee evidence and report

On 20th April 2023, Executive Chair of British Apples & Pears Limited, Ali Capper, gave oral evidence to the House of Lords Horticulture Committee.

The oral evidence was a follow-up to written evidence already submitted to the Committee by BAPL. 

Read the BAPL written evidence.

As Ali explained to the House of Lords Horticulture Committee:

“The shopper seems to be being charged more, but the money isn’t coming back down to the farm gate. There’s something wrong in the supply chain.”

“Growers need certainty. The trees we plant this year, we ordered two years ago. They won’t come into full production for another five or six years. You won’t hit profitability until year 12 or 13. We’re taking massive risks and we need certainty, especially around seasonal labour.”

Click here to watch the Parliament TV recording of the BAPL evidence session.

6 NOVEMBER 2023: UPDATE: Click here to access the final House of Lords Horticulture Committee report from this inquiry.


Media coverage for this news included:

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It’s The Apple Floss-ophy: Leading Dental Hygienist Hails an Apple a Day to Prevent Dental Decay

  • Eight out of ten adults in the UK have one or more teeth with decay,
    which have either been filled or pulled out
  • More than one in five children show signs of tooth decay
  • Tooth decay is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide
  • The new year sees health resolutions come to the fore for millions of Brits, and while many focus on weight loss, skin upkeep and fitness levels, looking after our teeth and oral health is just as important

Recent research has shockingly found that almost eight out of ten adults in the UK have one or more teeth with decay, that have either been filled or pulled out. Tooth decay is also extremely common in children, with more than one in five showing signs. What’s more, dental caries (also known as tooth decay or dental cavities) is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide.

British Apples and Pears, the body representing UK apple and pear growers, has partnered with leading dental hygienist and therapist Anna Middleton and founder of London Hygienist, to champion the humble apple as the optimum, affordable and healthy snack to start the new year – the key to healthy teeth and a healthy mouth.

Bacteria in the mouth converts the sugars that we eat into acid. That acid can damage the mineral layer – the enamel – on our teeth, which can lead to decay or cavities. Choosing fruits that are low in acidity and sugar – like apples – means getting plenty of your daily vitamins and antioxidants without impacting your teeth’s enamel. Meanwhile, fruits that are very sweet or very sour, such as pineapple or mango, are best enjoyed in moderation.

Middleton comments: “If you want to snack between meals, I recommend opting for fresh fruit such as apples and pairing them with something alkaline such as cheese, instead of consuming lots of dried fruit, which is high in sugar.”

What’s more, foods lower in free or added sugar are generally better for your oral health. Keeping your intake of free sugars low, including sugar-sweetened drinks and milk-based sweetened drinks, can help minimise the risk of dental caries throughout our lives.

Apples are also packed with fibre which is vital to keep our digestion and gut healthy including our gut microbiota. A healthy gut microbiota is also essential for supporting our immune system.

When it comes to your fruit intake, there’s no question that eating the whole fruit including the skin is the best option for your teeth.

Leading dental hygienist and therapist, Anna Middleton, shares her top recommendations for preventing tooth decay:

  1. Reduce your consumption of food and drink with high sugar content. Try to proactively minimise the amount and frequency you are consuming such foods
  2. Avoid sugar-containing foods and drinks at bedtime when saliva flow is reduced
  3. If you do have food or drink with added sugar, make them part of a meal and not a between-meal snack
  4. Low acid and low sugar fresh fruit such as British apples are great snacks to eat between meals for healthy teeth

British apples offer a huge variety of health benefits that make it a far better option than other sugary or processed foods. At just 77 calories, they are ideal for those looking for a healthy way to start the new year. They also offer great value for money, store really well in the fridge and keep your food miles low, as they are home grown.

With a high fibre content, made up of 86% water and full of essential nutrients, it’s easy to make apples our go-to snack – great for our teeth, our wallets and overall health.

References

[1] Dentistry Today

[2] Sugars and dental caries (who.int)

[3] Is Fruit Bad For Your Teeth? | National Dental Care / DB Dental

[4] https://www.dentalhealth.org/diet-and-my-teeth

[5] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sugars-and-dental-caries

[6] www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-apples

[7] Gov.co.uk – Chapter 10: Healthier Eating

[8] https://www.nationaldentalcare.com.au/article/is-fruit-bad-for-your-teeth

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Raymond Blanc’s Apple Tasting Notes

Download the pdf

Discover more about British apple varieties here.

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Rob Hobson Heart Health Research

Download Apple Heart Health Research here

A Research Summary by Rob Hobson, Nutritionist

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British apples are especially red and going ‘green’ this year

Monday 4th October 2021 is the official start of the British apple and pear season. Supermarkets nationwide will be fully stocked with a delicious array of home grown varieties including Gala, Braeburn, Jazz, Cox, Conference pears and English Bramley.

British growers are predicting a great tasting crop this year. Apple colour is expected to be vibrant, as Ali Capper, Executive Chair of British Apples & Pears Limited and apple grower, explains: “Most British dessert apples have a beautiful red tone to their skin that is created, in part, by our fantastic maritime climate, and this year is no exception.”

British apples and pears have grown in popularity over the last year, driven by their longer shelf life and fantastic health benefits. However, it’s the news about the environmental credentials of British apples and pears that growers are highlighting in 2021.

A new report from the Royal Agricultural University, has revealed, for the first time, just how ‘green’ our rosy-red British apples are.

Key findings of the survey of growers include: 

  • 93% of growers use biodiversity measures, such as varied grasses and wildflowers to encourage insects, leaving windfall fruit for wildlife to eat, and creating beetle banks and bee hotels 
  • 83% of British apple and pear growers work with local beekeepers, with 70% producing honey from their orchards (insect pollinators including bumblebees play an essential role in biodiverse natural ecosystems and have a crucial role in fruit production) 
  • 90% use weather and crop monitoring technology 
  • 63% have solar panels to generate renewable energy 
  • Growers plan to plant 3 million new trees over the next five years 
  • Growers are planting hedges to improve biodiversity, and all surveyed said they aim to plant more hedges in the next five years 

A key case study in the report, Robert Rendall from Boxford Farms in Suffolk says, “As a business we already produce more green energy and recover more water than we use, and it is our goal to be a carbon sink by 2027.” 

British apple and pear growers are rising to the challenge of sustainable fruit production. They are connecting with nature, optimising resource efficiency, energy conservation and generation, and using smarter growing systems – while at the same time, ensuring the most delicious apples. 

To celebrate the start of the British apple and pear season, celebrity chef, Raymond Blanc, will be explaining why he loves British apples. Raymond Blanc says, “I am tremendously excited to be part of this year’s Start of Season launch. Britain produces some of the finest apple and pear varieties in the world, and it is hugely important to me that we support our home grown produce. With so many wonderful varieties available this season in an array of beautiful colours, textures and flavours, there really is a British apple to delight everyone.” 

In a brand-new partnership British Apples and Pears Limited is also working with JB Gill as an ambassador for the Start of Season launch. He is not only a high-profile member of successful boy band JLS but is also an avid farmer and champion of home-grown produce, having set up his own farm in Kent four years ago where he lives with his wife and children. 

Ali Capper, Executive Chair of BAPL says, “We are thrilled to be working with Raymond Blanc, for the second year running, and now JB Gill, who are both passionate advocates for British apples. Despite the challenges of COVID, Brexit and the weather, 2021 looks like being a wonderful year for great tasting apples and pears. Our dedicated and hard-working growers, the unique maritime climate and our ongoing commitment to sustainable innovation means our apple and pear varieties are some of the best tasting, most environmentally friendly varieties in the world.” 

Capper adds, “British Apples and Pears is determined to get every adult and child in the UK eating an apple a day. We still only represent 40-45% of all apples and pears sold in supermarkets, but there is no reason why this couldn’t reach to 60-70%.” 

Apples are a delicious, easy and affordable way to feel full for longer, adding fibre and essential nutrients to our diets. They are also rich in polyphenols – compounds with antioxidant and other health promoting properties – and are important in looking after our gut health. Simply swap out your usual sugar-laden snacks for a flavoursome, crisp and sweet British apple.

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Updated report highlights rising costs for British apple and pear farmers

In an update to the 2020 analysis of the cost increases to British apple and pear growers, Andersons accounting have revealed substantial increases in the cost of production in the UK.  A combination of increased labour costs and Covid safety management have resulted in an increase of 13.5p per 6 gala apple pack in the last five years.

For the full report, please click on the link below.

BAPL Wage and Covid Inflation Final