A look behind the scenes at Schouten’s Quality Assurance
Here we pay attention to the quality of our products and packaging. That quality is among our top priorities is demonstrated by the Quality Assurance department’s high level of commitment. QA Project Manager Ilona Thijssen is one of the seven employees who go to great lengths to ensure quality and stability. We’ll follow her for a day.
Projectbegeleiding van a tot z
There is nothing more varied than a day in the life of a QA Project Manager at Schouten. Ilona explains, “In my role, I supervise customer projects in terms of quality assurance. For example, suppose we develop a new product for a customer. In that case, I draw up the specifications, break down the recipes, approve raw materials and assess the test analyses. I also collect information about the artwork on the label, which I then check. Not to mention the most important aspect of my work: I am the point of contact for customers regarding product quality. You can really build a rapport with customers, which is something I really enjoy.”
“Especially when we are in the middle of a client project, I am in touch more often. For instance, we regularly meet with the project group and the client. This includes setting the schedule and agreeing on the division of labour. I think it’s important to have an understanding of these matters. If you get it right, then project efficiency increases and customers know exactly what they are getting into.”
Never a dull moment
Ilona’s schedule is pretty full, but she also reserves a few hours each day. “This leaves me enough breathing room to respond quickly to emergencies and last-minute customer queries. My schedule indicates that I have a product inspection coming up. We check our products twice weekly for weight, texture, colour, taste, appearance and continuity. That way, we can intervene when necessary.”
During her rare moments of downtime, Ilona dedicates herself to taking QA processes to the next level. “I get a lot of energy from optimisation projects. For instance, I am now in the process of making all customer agreements, customer requirements, and country requirements per customer more manageable. Because we have so many client projects, and each client has unique requirements and demands, a good overview and structure are essential. This allows us to provide better, more agile customer service.”
Ilona emphasises that her work is a collaborative effort: “I love working in teams. Take our QA department, run by experts in their own field. For example, one colleague is an inspection, legislation and audits expert. During our extensive monthly meetings, she keeps us informed of any changes. Aside from her briefings, we also receive regular newsletters from international organisations with which Schouten is affiliated.” “Within our department, we also have two QA/QC specialists who keep track of all tasks regarding our IFS manual, perform analyses, handle customer queries and update raw material specifications. And don’t forget our manager. Who not only works on process optimisation but also considers the competencies and wishes of everyone at QA. This increases our job satisfaction, and customers notice that too.”
No two clients are the same
Collaboration runs in Ilona’s veins. She interacts easily with R&D and Sales colleagues and knows exactly what matters to different customer groups. “Customers who come to us for a private-label product often keep control and also bear final responsibility for the product themselves. We support them during development, provide the right information and brainstorm how a product can comply with a country’s laws and regulations.”
“With QSR customers (fast food restaurants – ed.), we really work together to develop products. We populate their customer systems and/or portals and team up when navigating laws and regulations. Since QSR chains often operate globally, it is quite a challenge to get a product that’s suitable for every market. An advisory role in this kind of process interests me.”
Besides private-label and QSR customers, Schouten also caters to industrial customers. “We develop these products ourselves and take responsibility for them. Industrial customers have the last word when it comes to whether they purchase the product. We do not have an advisory role. But we do our best to take away concerns from these customers wherever possible.”
The audits are an important moment in the production processes. “We have external and internal audits. In an external audit, the customer conducts an audit at our production site. A QA officer is always present to keep everything on track. We check that our production and packaging sites meet all requirements during internal audits. Is the quality Schouten-worthy? Are the systems working as they should? We fine-tune the processes, and the customer is assured of excellent quality.”
Often Ilona and her QA colleagues are also present at the first stage of production of a plant-based product or a packaging test. “Together with a colleague from R&D, we monitor the process and check whether the pre-arranged agreements are respected. In doing so, we pay close attention to any additional customer requirements. Did everything work properly at the production site? And do they adhere to the additional requirements?”
When Ilona goes home at the end of the day, she often looks back with a satisfied feeling. Does she see the same satisfaction among customers? “Certainly I do. Above all, I hope customers see our department as honest, transparent and clear. Sometimes, as a department, we do have to say ‘no’. Of course, we would rather not do that. However, we prefer to give good advice in line with all laws and regulations rather than provide a product with which the customer will have problems later. That’s our approach: we like to communicate clearly and consistently. That way, customers know what they are getting into and can rely on us.
Everybody knows their job in the QA department.
Everyone in the department has their own specialism and type of customers. Below is a sample of the various activities.
Schouten complies with IFS standards. This means we control processes, guarantee high quality and provide the safest possible product. That is why our quality manual and process mapping are important to our work.
We regularly conduct audits at production sites. We do this when we start a new production site and annually after that.
The QA department oversees the project, ensuring our products are checked for listeria. We also take into account the incorrect use of products by consumers. Such as consuming unheated products, for example.
We draft labels for packaging. This is how we make sure they comply with the guidelines. Everything has to be correct, from correctly listing an allergen to the right font size.
We draft product specifications. This includes all data on a product, such as ingredients, allergens, nutritional values, but also microbiological aspects.
We keep in touch with customers to handle queries and complaints. In case of a recurring problem, we get to the bottom of it to make sure everything is sorted out properly. This is how we tackle or prevent problems.
We apply for export declarations or veterinary certificates from the NVWA. This is mandatory in order to export a product abroad.