Softly SOFHTe
Published:  16 July, 2010

It's yet to be seen whether deputy PM Nick Clegg's stated aim of burning through bureaucracy will be a bonfire of red tape or as the cynics might predict a kindling that doesn't catch. But one baker has lit the touchpaper on her filing cabinet and, in so doing, has become the first to benefit from a new supplier accreditation scheme aimed at small businesses.

Accreditation is essential for any ambitious baker eyeing up retail supply. While BRC accreditation is out of reach for small firms, the SALSA scheme came along to offer a less onerous route to retail. Now the SALSA of SALSAs has arrived SOFHTe, pronounced 'softy' claiming to be an even cheaper and easier option.

And bakeries don't get much smaller than the scheme's guinea pig, Sarah Gayton's Taste of the Moorlands in Staffordshire a one-and-a-half woman operation (her sister works part-time). Not that scale will hold Gayton back from supplying retailers, as she eyes up the likes of Waitrose, who were the first retailer to approve the scheme.

With demand soaring for her Great Taste Awards-winning oaty biscuits, tea loaf, treacle tarts, Bakewell tarts, scones, shortbread and ginger biscuits through the National Trust, farmers' markets and other retailers, she was confident of growing her £100,000-turnover business regionally, but needed accreditation to tick the retailers' boxes.

"The way I operate, I want everything to be squeaky clean before I start supplying bigger customers," she says. "I've had people approach me, but I didn't want to supply them because I couldn't prove what I was doing, but now I can."

Gayton was the first to trial the web-based SOFHTe certification, which tracks everything from incoming goods to temperatures and even cleaning schedules how often, when and what is being done. "It's a new scheme designed for small companies like mine," she says. "We physically cannot spend the whole day auditing all our suppliers we wouldn't make any money. This scheme is basically designed to look comprehensively through the different processes in your bakery. If you have HACCP, it makes sure that you check the temperature of the products when they come out of the oven."

One benefit of this paperless quality control system is that a whole day is not wasted doing admin. It has also made life so much easier with Trading Standards, she says. "You don't have to enter all your information in one go. I'm working almost 24/7, as you do! I cannot just do it in one hit. So I'm allowed to go in and do one section of the certification and go back to it the next night or in a week's time and put other information in."

She has married this up with a paperless software system, called Gerald, from Applied Principles. "What we've done with Sarah is work out a key number of tasks each day that are particular to the safety, legality and quality of that product," says Richard Leathers, quality systems manager for Applied Principles. "Retailers are not looking for suppliers with a massive quality system. What they want are really good, often locally produced products with traceability. Sarah is very good at making biscuits she wants to devote all her time to doing that, not to maintaining an expensive quality system that she has to be audited on a repeated basis."

So how can retail buyers know that suppliers' inputs are trustworthy? It's all done by risk assessment and monitoring. If you're a biscuit baker, risk is relatively low. If you're in chilled produce, it's high. There is a rating system and, within three years, you will get audited at a mutually convenient time. You're asked to upload photographic and documentary evidence, and if there is not enough information, more will be requested. "They can see clearly if you are in a routine of doing everything you're supposed to be doing," says Gayton.

Will it catch on? Musgrave Budgens Londis has joined Waitrose in backing SOFHTe, with three multiples looking at it. "The people who make really good food know it," says Gayton. "What has been lacking is an affordable, small-scale certification system to prove that we're all doing what we say we do."


How SOFHTe works

l Costs: non-members £400, members £200 includes certification and audit
l Web-based scheme with risk-assessed audits of suppliers on a sample basis
l Supplier completes questionnaire online and uploads required documents
l Completed questionnaire reviewed by qualified food technologist
l No additional cost for suppliers selected for audit www.sofht.co.uk




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