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EARNED RECOGNITION - empty promises, latest buzzword or real progress? and the Top Ten Tips towards

Earned Recognition

A phrase that carried so much promise now seems to trigger as much frustration and discontent as hope. It is being used in so many contexts it is inevitable that it now brings with it a different nuance of understanding from each use.


Misunderstanding and Frustration.

Earned Recognition – what does it really mean?

What does seem to be common across all the uses I looked at is a promise of red tape reduction through moving to intelligence led inspections. Instead of everyone being put through exactly the same sheep-dip process, data and historical performance would be used to decide who needs to do what.

However, look at where it is being used and the difference nuances are to be expected. Whether you are talking about Commercial Driver Operators Compliance, Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority licensing rules or FSA Inspections or whether you are talking about retailer requirements for private label manufacturers there is as much difference in core drivers as there are similarities.

While all these examples are looking to achieve compliance to a set of requirements with a limited set of resources to ensure they are being adhered to, the retailer move to Earned Recognition is laden with a huge nervousness around brand reputation.

Where much of the misunderstanding seems to come from is the assumption that the one approach is described by the phrase – whichever organisation is using it.

When it comes to food, consumers are tending to hold food companies responsible for ensuring the food is safe but they have little trust in those same companies.


This is at the heart of every aspect of Earned Recognition. It is the number one currency between a retailer and it’s customers... the fear of losing the trust if something goes wrong drives the check and double check mindset. For a retailer we are directly talking about the core of their brand reputation. It takes courage if an issue happens for a retailer to stand up and say they hadn’t been auditing the site that made their products, or they hadn’t been testing the products because they had confidence in the supplier. That confidence has to be huge. That trust between the retailer and the supplier has to be cast iron. The relationship has to be honest and transparent.

I believe this is a fundamental difference when a retailer talks about Earned Recognition versus a more compliance-based programme. The level of expectation on the retailer for what they are selling with their name all over it is so high. A regulatory body ensuring a company has complied with requirements may get mentioned and some pressure if a business is found to be non-compliant BUT the headline will be the business’s name – not the case with a retailer own label product – it will be the retailer’s.

Conflicting pressures

So, on the one hand the retailers are under huge cost pressures running with less and less resource to deliver what they delivered before, they have no choice but to find efficiencies. It makes no sense for the same checks to be done several times by different people in the same supply chain.

BUT on the other, can they afford the risk to their brand reputation of something not being picked up, a food safety incident happening and then being shown to have not been checking things were right.

Ensuring that all the information about past performance and a full understanding of and confidence in the supplier’s capability to control risk only go part way to answering this. There is so much at stake here and so many things such as trust and culture and honesty are so difficult to measure it is never going to be a simple tick box exercise to reach the full potential Earned Recognition could have to offer. It is going to take time for retailers to work out how they are going to make this come alive but there is progress and we are starting to see more and more programmes addressing this and the first suppliers seeing some reduction in duplication of checks.

It can be a joint journey and all the actions for a supplier to drive earned recognition are about building confidence in their ability and therefore ultimately the same actions that will drive their business from strength to strength.

Top Ten Tips for Suppliers pursuing Earned Recognition

1. Drive Trust

This should be the number one metric to measure between your businesses

2. Transparency and Honesty

Nothing should be hidden – any issues – any concerns – be upfront. Encourage openness and visibility. Less checks should never be interpreted as the retailer not wanting to be engaged and close to how their product is being produced but it does allow that time to be used productively.

3. Proactive versus Reactive

Don’t wait to be asked – keep the retailer informed, let them know what is going on in your business (GOOD NEWS as well as bad news), be timely and come up with new ideas.

4. Relentless on Culture Excellence

Be it food safety culture, be it quality culture or be it food values – only when a whole organisation lives and breathes the values they promise can confidence be built.

5. Have a Holistic View

Don’t be siloed in your thinking, you might have a great set of results for one aspect of your business but that doesn’t automatically mean earned recognition - for trust to exist confidence is needed in all aspects of your operation.

6. Understand the Retailer

Know what’s most important to them and make sure you have plans in place for how you deliver it.

7. Think Supply Chain not just Site

Risks need to be being identified and managed throughout the supply chain.

8. Don’t Forget the Basics

Mixed up Labels, Allergen Issues and poor barcoding still drive a huge proportion of recalls and withdrawals.

9. Relationship

Know who makes the decisions that will affect your business and build those relationships.

10. Be Creative

A collaborative partnership between supplier and retailer should allow full examination of the costs and opportunities throughout the chain – be creative how to manage things differently.


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