A day in the life of an apple


Think about the last time you bought an apple, or pack of apples. In fact, it’s likely you have one or two lying in a fruit bowl right now, across the room.

You probably have some idea of why you chose these apples, instead of all the others. It may be that they were on offer, or you chose them because they came from a local or regional producer. Perhaps it was the grower’s organic approach to farming that appealed.

Fewer of us will have considered the wider challenges of getting the apples from creation to consumption. The products we use every day, and the food and beverages we buy each week, all come on their own supply chain journey before they reach the shelves.

Less still might pause to think about the positive influence of standards across these journeys – shaping both the safety and quality of the products we take for granted. So, how have standards helped this apple get into your fruit bowl?

From farm to fruit bowl

Every step along the journey from our apple’s orchard to the consumer has been shaped by standards. From primary producers and packers to those further down the supply line: processors; packaging and additives manufacturers; storage and logistics firms, and caterers and retailers.

A primary focus at each of these stages is food safety. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, globally, 600 million people fall ill annually after eating contaminated food. Standards help organizations comply with vital safety regulations and provide confidence that our apple is safe to eat.

Every food-related organization in the supply chain has a responsibility to maintain clear traceability systems and deliver safe products to consumers – and our apple’s growers are no exception. They can use them to help manage staff training, health and safety, hygiene and agricultural water use, soil quality, and to control contamination risks.

Keeping our apple moving

Once the apple has been grown, picked and packed, it may be stored or immediately transported to a wholesaler or retailer. Standards help maintain the reliability and resilience of these interim supply chain stages for all our food products.

“Standards support the application of important supply chain fundamentals,” says Malcolm Harrison, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS). They ensure that businesses work together efficiently and increase trust and transparency between supply chain partners – particularly during cross border trade. Our own global framework sets out what excellent procurement practice so employers can be sure they have the right skills in place for their organisation”

Standards can help companies create continuity plans to deal with disruption. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities in international supply across many industries – and viral outbreaks are only of many possible disrupting factors.

In addition, with today’s fully digitized food supply chain systems, standards are used to implement protections from specific and deliberate attacks such as extortion, cybercrime and economically motivated adulteration.

Businesses can even use standards to create their own food safety management system (FSMS) framework, covering communication, system management and hazard control to help remove potential weak links in the chain and increase resilience.

Thinking local

Our apple may have been bought individually, unwrapped, from a forward-thinking retailer keen to reduce packaging. Modern consumers are increasingly choosing to buy at least some of their regular foods from retailers which source products from local and regional suppliers.

HISBE is a Sussex-based independent supermarket and social enterprise. It was founded over a decade ago by sisters Ruth and Amy Anslow along clear ethical principles – its name refers to (H)ow (I)t (S)hould (B)e. HISBE receives and sells its fruit (it stocks several local, seasonal apple varieties), vegetables and other goods without plastic packaging to reduce environmental impact.

Ruth explains: “We use eight sustainable principles which we apply to all the goods we select and stock. For our apples – and all our fruit and vegetable suppliers – we consider the locality of the growers, the seasonality of their produce, their chemical use, and the respectful and ethical treatment of their workers.”

In the early days they had to overcome a widespread lack of understanding around sustainable food retailing. Ruth says: “In the beginning we had to convince our retail designers to let us sell loose goods. They said dispensers would take up too much room and look unappealing. We wanted consumers to be free to purchase just enough of what they need, by weight, and cut food waste and packaging at the same time.”

Today, however, Ruth notes that the situation is very different: “Nowadays, messages around food sustainability and provenance have really hit home with mainstream consumers. Knowledge has really deepened and even the big supermarkets have begun to change their processes.”

Social responsibility in supply

Although our apple may well have come, packaging free, from a local and organic supplier, there are other important areas in which standards have shaped its impact on the planet and its people.

Beyond wider environmental considerations – and as Ruth Anslow noted above – increased levels of conscious consumption mean many people now prefer companies and brands who demonstrate ethical, sustainable and socially responsible operations.

“Ethical considerations and sustainability issues can often be left out in the race to ensure supply or trim costs,” explains Malcolm Harrison. “Creating true value for all parties in the supply chain should be the main consideration. Standards help organizations show leadership across these areas to improve the lives of people within, and impacted by, any given supply chain.

Standards have played an important, but often overlooked, role in promoting wider environmental, social and governance considerations (ESG) factors across food supply chains for decades. Influencing the way that producers, manufacturers and logistics companies treat the local communities in which they operate, as well as the planet.

Harrison concludes: “Standards around modern slavery, for example, protect both workers and businesses from labour violations. As consumers focus more on buying from companies with strong ethical credentials they want to know where the food is sourced and who is picking it. This is an important area for transparency, in addition to food quality and safety.”

As supply chains increase in digital complexity, a standards-based approach is the best way for food businesses to intelligently manage and improve traceability, building a protected network of confidence and trust.

Hopefully the journey of our apple has helped reveal just some of the areas in which standards help ensure the reliability, quality, safety and sustainability of our food supply, as well as our other everyday goods.