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Sunderland taps into China’s food federation

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Published on 13 February 2019

China calls on University of Sunderland business expertise
China calls on University of Sunderland business expertise

Bosses from China’s biggest food producers invited a Sunderland academic to present the findings of his globally recognised food safety business model which they hope will support their own ambitions for worldwide expansion.

The University of Sunderland’s Dr Derek Watson has developed a positive food safety culture for manufacturers, using the ‘enlighten’ industry-based model which puts business practices under the microscope and lays the foundations to run more effectively and efficiently.

Already being used by manufacturers from Greece to Central America, the model caught the attention of The Food Federation of Inner Mongolia, representing 2,000 of China’s largest food manufacturers thanks to Dr Watson’s Chinese PhD student Yuan Zhai, who brokered the connection.

During the week-long visit, Dr Watson alongside John Husband , e-learning Director of totrain, a North-East based training business specialising in food safety, presented their collaborative ‘enlighten’ model to senior executives from companies including the billion-dollar milk producer Yili to food producer Mengliang, which has a turnover of £60m.

So impressed were they with the research, that the pair have now been made honorary members of The Food Federation. Plans are also being formalised for a delegation of Federation members to visit the UK where they will undertake company visits to observe management systems, followed by a management training programme with the University of Sunderland.

Dr Watson, a senior lecturer in the University’s Institute of Business, Law and Tourism, explained: “All of the companies we met already had good quality systems in place but once they began to understand the process of what we were telling them they could see the benefits and improvements that could be made with ‘enlighten’ and were keen to learn more.

“The success of our visit has led to a programme of activity planned with the Federation which will support their expansion plans which they anticipate will lead to their approval of the British Retail Consortium Global Food Standards, the market-leading global brand that helps build confidence in the supply chain – it really is the gold standard in this industry.”

Dr Watson added: “This is also great news that research initiated at Sunderland, supported by totrain, is truly being recognised on a global platform, and has been made possible thanks to the dedicated work of Yuan.”

Yuan said: “Helping me to broker the relationship between Sunderland and the Inner Mongolia Food Federation provided me with excellent exposure to both the commercial environment and the University’s ability to make real impact.”

A spokesperson for the Inner Mongolian Food Federation commented: “We are delighted to have been introduced to the University of Sunderland and the totrain organisation. Their collective expertise and professionalism has fostered a very close working relationship and our members are very keen in learning from their management expertise, the ‘enlighten model and the ultimate adoption of BRC accreditation.”

John Husband said: “The Food Safety Culture Model aimed at the food manufacturing industry has been greatly enhanced by Dr Watson’s understanding and knowledge of work-place psychology, organisational development, process management and change management. Working collaboratively this has complemented the 90 years’ experience of totrain’s directors in providing consultancy, traditional and online training solutions to the food manufacturing sector.”

The Enlighten model’s principle aim is to encourage food manufacturing organisations to complete a Food Safety Culture Questionnaire which assesses the level of compliance, best practice and in particular manufacturers’ behavioural short-falls within their organisations. The detailed questionnaire, is handed to all employees, and designed on the four C’s Model: Control, Co-operation, Communications and Competence. Data from the questionnaire is analysed, followed by one-to-one interviews and focus groups, before being validated, and the results presented at each stage to their executive before a final report is produced. 

Dr Watson explained: “Having looked at the current literature, Government reports, and food manufacturers practices, we designed a food safety assessment model which traces and triangulates core issues affecting businesses with regards to food safety cultural compliance.

“There are many illnesses and deaths linked to food safety, therefore it’s critical from a moral standpoint that organisations ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, that they develop a positive food safety culture, which is compliant. The enlighten model developed in conjunction with totrain enables food manufactures to measure its food safety cultural compliance, which is in line with anticipated requirements by the British Retail Consortium’s Global Quality Standards.”


Student Profile: Yuan Zhai

Yuan Zhai’s PhD research focuses on developing a quality management tool used for food safety management systems. It is a strategic and operational framework to close the gaps between the British Retail Consortium Global Food Standards and Chinese dairy producers’ food safety management systems.

Yuan said: “The goal of my research is helping Chinese food manufacturers become internationalised through exporting their products to the rest of the world. It is also in compliance with the Chinese Government’s national strategy of economic growth through growing export.”


British Retail Consortium Global Food Standards:

The company was founded in 1996 by retailers who wanted to harmonise food safety standards across the supply chain. Today they are globally recognised across both food and non-food categories and operate the most rigorous third party certification scheme of its type.

About Dr Derek Watson

Dr Watson is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, founder of the Faculty ‘Business Clinic’ and the Doctoral lead for the University’s ‘Research Fridays’ programme. Dr Watson has experience of mapping skills requirements in emerging sectors. He also has extensive links and networks as a result of sourcing and embedding external engagement opportunities across the curriculum, with an international portfolio of clients and contacts, such as the British Cabinet Office, Indian Government Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dubai Police and Canon International.