Frontier Co-op: A Streamlined Supply Chain Enables Flexibility During COVID-19
Founded in 1976 and based in Norway, Iowa, Frontier Co-op is a cooperatively-owned wholesaler of natural and organic products under the Frontier Co-op, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. With more than 25,000 member-owners and over 500 employees, they manufacture and distribute products throughout the United States and Canada.
“The complexity of products makes our supply chain a challenge,” says Greg Sommerville, Head of Supply Integrity representing Frontier Co-op. “We have more than 1,800 different ingredients and materials, including herbs and teas, spices, essential oils, and packaging. As an example of the complexity, one of our spice blends is sourced from 16 suppliers in nine different countries. Using FoodLogiQ Connect’s Manage + Monitor, we have an unmatched level of visibility into our suppliers and the associated documentation. That’s proven to be extremely valuable for regulatory compliance and quality assurance, especially during COVID-19.”
Business hasn’t slowed down for our friends at Frontier Co-op during the coronavirus pandemic; the demand for their products is greater than ever as consumer demand has risen for items that are shelf-stable, organic and immunity-building. We discussed how the organization is navigating the COVID-19 crisis with Greg Sommerville; learn how their team has responded and pivoted below.
How did you and your team first hear about the coronavirus?
It really was a series of events. When we attended Biofach 2020, which is the annual organic trade fair in Nuremberg, Germany in February, it was very quiet; attendance was way down compared to previous years, so it was very noticeable from a business perspective that something was wrong. Then my colleagues were planning to attend the International Spice Conference in Kochi, India, in February, but that event was cancelled.
We learned more about COVID-19 when we were beginning to make our travel plans for the March/April timeframe. A colleague and I were supposed to go to China to work on a project, but again, that trip was cancelled due to concerns about coronavirus. Frontier Co-op put a ban on all corporate travel, quickly rolled out new Covid-19 policies internally, and the world health situation spiraled into where we are today.
Frontier Co-op operations employees continue to work our facilities on a daily basis, keeping production and bottling running smoothly, ensuring our customers receive their orders. Meanwhile, the quality team is also on site ensuring the highest standards set by Frontier are being maintained in these challenging times. Most other employees are working remotely. I am grateful for all the employees at the facility working on the front line of the business as well as our excellent IT department who have been extremely busy and successful with building out our alternative tech work streams for work-from-home, meetings and file sharing.
How did you approach COVID-19 from a supply chain and food safety standpoint?
We have a strong supplier verification and integrity program already in place with historically strong supply relationships. We looked at our supply chain for hotspots where there were the most cases of coronavirus — one of those locations being China — so we began to make possible alternative sourcing plans. We evaluated what we needed to do from a food safety perspective and if there were any worries about food contamination, but the FDA has stated there are none.
Once the virus became a pandemic, how did Frontier Co-op have to pivot? Did you have to find new suppliers to get what you needed?
In most cases we didn’t have to find new suppliers, but some of our suppliers did have to source particular items from different origins, based on availability. Instead of purchasing ‘Product A’ from China, we’ve been able to purchase that same item from a supplier in another country who is a regular source for other products. So we’re still able to meet demand and production requests.
It sounds like demand is still as strong as ever. How has FoodLogiQ helped?
Yes, demand is still strong. Fortunately, by having approved, streamlined processes already in place using FoodLogiQ, we have had a great deal of flexibility and success when we needed to adjust product origins and suppliers. By having all our supplier information in one location, we’ve been able to adjust our plans in a very documented manner. Our quality team has pivoted and been able to use FoodLogiQ to house the necessary documentation for deviations and required approvals. From a supplier point of view, it has been simple to find an organic certificate when we have needed to change suppliers, because all the information is in one place and easy to access within the software.
All our teams are working full steam ahead to meet demand for our sustainably-sourced and organic herbs, spices, and aromatherapy products. Quality control continue their responsibilities with sampling, testing, ensuring specifications are met and more; quality assurance are working hard ensuring the facilities continue to meet rigorous internal quality standards and certification requirements. Meanwhile, the QA team and I continue to follow up with suppliers to complete assessments and add certifications using FoodLogiQ Connect, taking into consideration most of the industry is busy fulfilling their supply chains. FoodLogiQ has worked really well for us, even in a pandemic situation.