When experience meets innovation
“Just like the whole group, our production and quality assurance system evolved dramatically from its inception. From four employees working on a primitive equipment and driven mainly by their knowledge and enthusiasm in 1996, to high level in-house laboratory furnished with state-of-the-art testing equipment and comprised of 20 biochemistry scientists, highly skilled food experts and laboratory workers today.
We usually tend to apply a certain mix of experience, traditions and innovations in all the domains, here at Viciunai. Take our products for example: at one end, we have such classic and popular items as Surimi shrimps or Snow crab, and at the other – BIO dumplings with salmon, seitan and coriander or dried salmon sausages with mango. Same applies to the company’s laboratories and Quality Unit –seasoned veterans work together with young aspiring scientists, combining their respective approaches,” says Loreta Stonkiene, Head of Product and Technological Development at Viciunai.
A qualitative leap for the last three years
Quality of Vici and other Group’s produce is assured by the network of internal laboratories operating at every production site of Viciunai. However, the most comprehensive tests are run at the main laboratory of Viciunai production stronghold in Plunge.
“In 2015, it was certified by the industry benchmark for the internal laboratories – ISO/IEC 17025. It is issued by the official regulator – Lithuanian Food and Veterinary Service and guarantees competence, impartiality and consistent operation of the site. That’s an important advantage working with global retail networks and was acquired after their growing interest to be sure about the credibility of our internal tests,” maintains Loreta Stonkiene.
From 2016, Viciunai’s laboratory is headed by Justa Sirvaityte, a former senior researcher at Kaunas University of Technology and a PhD in chemical engineering, trained at various science institutions of Lithuania, Norway, Austria and other countries. Whereas some of the other scientists and laboratory workers have experience spanning over 15 or even 20 years in the field, and are able to tell if the surimi or fish sample is in accordance with all the taste, composition or even chemical requirements just by tasting it.
“On top of ISO 17025, consistently positive results at the proficiency testing is another QAS achievement we are very proud of. Testing includes such chemical indicators as humidity, protein, fat, ashes or others, and is meant to ensure we work well within the margin of error while running wide scope of tests. Viciunai’s lab has been participating in the proficiency testing right from 2012, and our results have always been within the margin of error. It is verified by the British LGC Standards, known for their rigid requirements in the realm,” says Justa Sirvaityte.
Multi-level QAS – business critical
This year, Group’s QAS ranks have been further boosted by an addition of a new Food Safety and Quality Manager. Modestas Keblys, a PhD in biomedical sciences, has been working in the field of food safety and quality for over 17 years. He arrived at Viciūnai from Palink, a major Lithuanian retailer owned by Rewe, Coop Switzerland and other large European players. Previously he had worked at the State Food and Veterinary Service and the National Veterinary Institute of Norway.
According to him, no matter how precise or consistent your testing results are, with 60 different markets, thousands of clients across the world and millions of Euros at stake, you simply don’t put all your eggs in one basket. “Multi-level quality assurance system and multiple safeguards minimise the risks of any infections or deviations in the specification. First of all, traceability, microbiological and chemical tests are run by the raw material providers themselves, then our internal laboratories make sure those are correct. During the production process, rigorous QA procedures also take place. On top of that, final products, for the sake of objectivity, are sent to the accredited external laboratories in various European countries.”
Benefits of controlling the supply chain
The company is well-known for its control of the supply chain, which plays an equally vital role in the overall quality assurance. Raw material providers are constantly controlled by questionnaires as well as audits; processing, logistics and distribution processes are run by the group itself. Company enjoys the benefits of sales and distribution companies in 20 countries, runs its own transportation company and has several regional logistic centres.
“Multi-level QAS and full supply chain control turns out to be primary factors behind Viciunai’s ability to enhance its share in the existing and enter the new markets. Our results of announced and unannounced BRC and IFS audits are perhaps the most clear-cut indicator how these systems actually work”, says Group’s Head of Quality.
All of the Viciunai’s surimi, salted as well as white fish production processes have been evaluated between the score of 96,6-98,3 by the IFS in 2017. When it comes to the BRC, two-thirds of Viciunai factories have been certified at the highest AA level, with one third complying with high A standard.
Internal food allergen testing to be launched in 2018
Owing to the expansion of the group’s sales and distribution network as well as long-standing partnerships on surimi, other SKUs of Viciunai, like salmon, gyoza bio dumplings and mackerel have started to generate interest from major retailers in the UK, Spain, Germany, Belgium and other countries.
“We have therefore decided to start comprehensive internal food allergen testing this year. So far, we’ve relied on the external labs for these tests, but the best practice is to run them in-house. Allergies are hot topic, especially in the West, and with our ongoing growth there, it makes sense to start running allergen testing ourselves. We will cover all main food allergens, like nuts, egg and dairy products, particular emphasis is going to be put on the gluten-free produce,” Head of the Laboratory revealed company’s plans for the nearest future.