Global baking company relies on digital quality control records

WESTMINSTER, COL. — A technical platform that has gained traction among quality control executives in the food industry is rapidly being adopted as a valuable tool for purchasing and research and development leadership, said Mike LaBosky, vice president of global quality for Bimbo QSR.

In an interview with Milling and Baking NewsMr. LaBosky described how companies like Bimbo QSR have come to rely on digital documentation networks like TraceGains, a technology company based in Westminster, Colorado.

Mr. LaBosky said he has been a user of TraceGains for about eight years and declared himself a fan of the company’s original platforms and their subsequent enhancements. His experience includes quality control assignments at Bimbo QSR and East Balt (as the company was known prior to Bimbo’s acquisition in 2017), as well as several other leading consumer packaged food companies. The product lines he has overseen include baked goods, protein, condiments, produce and protein.

He said TraceGains secured a foothold in the food and beverage industry through the digitization of supplier documentation. The introduction of the platform was followed by the development of modules offering related services.

“We use the vendor compliance module, and that helps us keep up with our vendors,” he said. “The platform, because it’s digital, allows you in basically any audit environment, the ability to produce documents that demonstrate compliance. That is all.”

Bimbo QSR is baking for just about every major quick-service restaurant chain on five continents, LaBosky said. With its large geographic presence, the company sells products made in nearly 50 different baking plants.

“Our customers have unique requirements,” he said. “Each of our customers expects our bakeries to be certified by GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative, an umbrella group that sets standards for various certification schemes). When you start to look at the necessary programs and take into account the food safety, quality and regulatory aspects required to meet GFSI standards, the ability to manage ingredients and suppliers is very critical.”

Perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, supplier documentation management associated with meeting these standards was done through filing cabinets and manila folders, LaBosky said. Access to information was needed for auditors’ inspections on a range of topics, from specifications or analysis to proof of insurance.

“Invariably in those days, the document the auditor asked for was the one that was expired,” he said.

Bimbo QSR’s document portal today has more than 30,000 unique documents related to the company’s suppliers. Some are specific ingredients. Others are vendor specific. Examples include sustainability claims, sourcing claim, proof of insurance and audit results (GFSI compliance).

“This portal allows us to interact with our suppliers in real time to make sure all of our documents are up to date,” he said.

More recently, the platform has gone a step further with providers uploading certificates of analysis into the system. Bimbo then receives an alert when an analytical sample does not fall within a preset range of contract specifications.

“This system is much better than the way it used to be done,” said Mr. LaBosky.

TraceGains Market Hub, a more recent introduction, “ties everything together,” he said, incorporating research and development and purchasing into what had been a quality assurance system.

Amid the supply chain issues that have emerged with COVID, many food companies have become aware of reliance on single suppliers, sometimes in remote parts of the world, for individual ingredients. Technology like TraceGains and its Networked Ingredient Marketplace is being used to help diversify sourcing, LaBosky said.

“The world is a small place if there is good technology,” he said. “Thats what this is about”.

Beyond supply chain challenges, Mr. LaBosky said the system allows Bimbo QSR to respond quickly when customers are trying to develop new products on short notice.

“Part of this is getting new products to market quickly,” he said.

He explained that most of Bimbo’s QSR business is producing basic products, such as buns, in very large quantities.

“But almost all LTO (limited time offer) projects have unique ingredients,” he said. “We need to get that to market quickly. However, we have to comply. That’s the power of TraceGains’ integrated approach. Our formulators, R&D and purchasing staff when they use the Market Hub to go to the supermarket ‘This is where we buy our ingredients’. We know that the compliance documents are already there. Don’t buy something from someone who isn’t on this portal, because there could technically be a compliance risk. So if it’s about speed to market and compliance to make quality and safe food, having a platform like this makes it easy to speed, compliance and customer satisfaction.”

TraceGains said that between 15,000 and 20,000 ingredient suppliers currently have a presence in its network. He said customers of food companies typically find “80% of their suppliers already in the TraceGains network.”

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