Understanding your Raw Materials – “Provenance” and a Tragic Case

We have another story now to add to the litany of incidents where poor sourcing and supply chain management (in the broadest sense) have played a role in a tragic case.

Indian restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman was sent to prison for 6 years this week after being found guilty of manslaughter in a case that is thought to be a legal first, setting a very interesting and important precedent for the food industry. His restaurant sold a take-away meal to Paul Wilson in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, who had a severe peanut allergy. He died of anaphylactic shock after eating the meal, even though he had emphasised his allergy to the restaurant staff when ordering his food.

As the BBC reported:

“He died three weeks after a different customer with a peanut allergy bought a meal from one of Mr Zaman's six restaurants and had a reaction requiring hospital treatment. The restaurateur had a "reckless and cavalier attitude to risk" and "put profit before safety" at all his outlets, the jury was told”.

Other diners had previously experienced the same issue, and amazingly, a day after his death, the trading standards people visited the premises, asked for a nut free meal – and found a large quantity of nuts in their dish too.

Apparently, the owner had financial problems and had switched almond powder for a cheaper ground nut mix, which contained peanuts. So here we have a case of how a “cost saving” when it affects the product and the end customer can have tragically terrible consequences. But we can imagine the “procurement manager” saying, “yes, this ingredient is just as good, and much cheaper” …

It also shows how vital the issue of provenance is today. Increasingly, consumers want to understand their purchases better. Whilst many will still buy on price, more and more want to know where products are made, the background to ingredients, even the working conditions of those involved in the supply chain. Not everyone has to live with such a terrible allergy which makes these issues live and death critical; but many of us would like to know a little more about what goes into our curries and many other things we buy.

That all brings more challenges for procurement, but also more opportunities. As the potential “process owners” of supply chain risk management, and with responsibility for guaranteeing that the provenance of what we buy meets the organisation’s needs and the end-consumer needs (and the two should be very connected of course), procurement should have a central role to play as organisations put more emphasis on this sort of issue.

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