Supplier Monitoring Programs, Vol.3

Volume 3Prioritization of Products, What should I test and when?

Congratulations!   You have embarked on your journey to create a robust supplier monitoring program.  Your product specifications have been revised to provide clear descriptions of the gold standard product and set expectations for what is acceptable for each quality metric.  Now, let’s determine what products should be tested regularly.  

Testing more doesn’t mean an increase in quality.  

Being judicious with what and when we test, means we can target specific products that will make the biggest difference to our customers.  

I have my SKU list.  What do I do first?

Review your SKUs for items that come in multiple sizes.  This is often the case in private label grocery where you may have the same food item packaged in different sizes or bulk versus individual units.  Remove all but the most common size package to reduce the overall number of SKUs.  Only one will need to be tested since packaging size should not affect quality.  

How should I categorize my products?

Successful quality assurance systems are built on a multifaceted approach.  Building a matrix is an easy way to combine multiple priorities.  For instance, you may want to create a tier of products that has the highest impact on your brand.  Brand impact would be one axis of the matrix.  You may also want to understand where your most costly items are as well.  Product cost would be the other axis.  Thus you could identify items that greatly affect how your brand is perceived and that create significant financial losses when they cannot be used due to low quality.  Other product categories may include items that are highly variable that should be tested more often or products where a specific focus will be placed on them in the future. 

What products should I test?

It depends.  (Don’t you love when scientists give you that answer?)  It depends on what your goals are for the current iteration of your quality system.  Goals can change over time.  At the inception of a supplier monitoring program, you may want to use a broad testing scheme to get the lay of the land and create baseline data on the majority of your products.  Later, you may decide to focus specific attention on limited time offer (LTO) items or maybe you dedicate time to improving the quality of your lowest performing suppliers.  If your goals change, you need to go back and revisit how you prioritize product testing.  

How do I determine the proper tests and methods for each product?

For each product, you need to determine what characteristics and performance metrics work together to create a high quality product.  For instance, the fat percentage and viscosity of an alfredo sauce would greatly impact the flavor and mouthfeel of the sauce.  On the other hand, a high quality chicken tender should be evenly breaded, have a consistent size and shape for even cooking, and maintain proper breading after frying.  Each food item should be reviewed for performance metrics and for critical defects that would render the item unusable.  

Once testing parameters are identified, you need to make sure that the proper methods are used for each food type.  Further, methods that you use to check quality should be comparable to the methods by which your suppliers are also checking quality.  Without this apples-to-apples comparison, testing results can be debated.

How often should I test each product?

Once you have identified what products to test and your overall goals for your monitoring program, the frequency of testing must be determined.  Testing frequency can be affected by budget, variability of the product, and how much historical data already exists about the performance of a product.  For instance, if you are regularly testing a hamburger bun and no defects are present time and time again, testing frequency can be decreased.  Conversely, if I have a new product that appears highly variable, I may want to test it at a higher frequency to learn more about its variability and performance.  Testing frequency can also change over time and should be increased for problematic products or products that have seasonal inconsistencies.