Soufflet moves to apply ISO 9000 to all food plants and elevators

by Teresa Acklin
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   In one of the most ambitious quality enhancement programs ever launched by a diversified group in agri-business and food processing, Groupe Soufflet has committed to having ISO 9000 in effect at all of its facilities — flour mills, malting plants, bakeries, seed facilities and even export grain elevators.

   “ISO” is the International Standards Organization, which has developed a program or systems approach to the management of plants that requires a strictly formal implementation and approval process and continued monitoring of adherence to operating standards. The ISO standards were first developed for defense manufacturers and are now being embraced by a wide range of companies, primarily in Europe. It is only in relatively recent years that ISO 9000 has been perceived as an important step to be taken by companies in the food business, with several milling companies in Britain among the very first to have specific plants approved as in compliance with ISO 9000, and its various subparts.

   It is sensed that the undertaking by Groupe Soufflet, discussed in the course of an interview with Jean-Michel Soufflet, deputy managing director, represents an effort that reflects considerably more than recognizing that embracing ISO 9000 has become “fashionable” for French companies.

   “As flour millers and as maltsters, we are convinced that our major industrial customers will demand ISO 9000 certification as an absolute minimum requirement in buying from us,” Mr. Soufflet said. “These large buyers increasingly apply both price and quality considerations, and we believe that conforming to the ISO rules also will be exceptionally important to us as one of the largest grain and food exporters in Europe. At the least, ISO 9000 means that the process at a specific plant is under control. Of course, buyers want more than this, in the way of clean plants using quality grains and other ingredients and producing high quality products.”

   Soufflet's mill at Lozanne was the first of the group's flour mills to be approved for ISO 9000. Since then, the malting plant at Troyers, plus two bakeries, also have been certified. An application for approval has been submitted for the group's principal export grain elevator at Rouen, which has storage capacity of 150,000 tonnes, and plans are under way to come under ISO 9000 at the country's other export elevators and eventually at its country units.

   Grands Moulins de Pantin, the large French milling company acquired by Soufflet at the middle of 1994, was itself engaged in ISO 9000 certification at the time the purchase was consummated, and that process has continued under Soufflet ownership.

   In commenting on this across-the-board ISO 9000 effort, Mr. Soufflet observed that the process was not just important to providing quality assurance to the group's customers, but that it has many advantages for building a long-term team effort among staff in seeking to maintain certification.

   “We look upon ISO 9000 as a continuous effort,” he said. “One important dividend is that, by requiring a close look at how a plant operates, it reveals much about costs.”

   He added, “We have found the long and detailed process to be a productive way of mobilizing people to work toward a single goal, a goal that takes a long time to achieve, but is worth attaining for both serving our customers and our internal focus on maximizing plant efficiency.”

   Symbolizing the ISO 9000 commitment is the group's slogan that roughly translates, “Soufflet quality is the business of all.”