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An interview with Aon's Niek van As and Vincent Spierings

What happens when there is a recall?

A recall: every food processing company or distributor's worst nightmare. Most businesses in this sector pay a lot of attention to food safety, yet there are often recalls. Even if a company sticks strictly to its own or imposed protocols, errors or contamination in the production process can never be completely ruled out. For these risks, Aon offers more than just insurance as a solution.

Vincent Spierings and Niek van As 

What does Aon do? 
“We're a risk, pension, and healthcare consultancy. We use data to help clients make better decisions for different sectors. The world is becoming increasingly complex, as are the risks companies face. We help our clients identify and manage those. In the Netherlands, we have 2,500 committed experts for that," says Vincent Spierings, Aon's Food & Agri Industry Director.

He and a group of specialized account managers serve Food & Agri sector businesses. Vincent is the Dutch market's contact person at Aon, and for that, he collaborates with his colleagues in Europe. He is also the contact for industry associations like GroentenFruit Huis and Nekovri.

What happens when there is a recall? 
“Recall is the term used when goods must be removed from the trade because, for some reason, something's gone amiss. A recall presents various risks to the affected company and the entire supply chain. First and foremost, this interrupts the affected company's business operations. The government or other authority will order the production process to be decontaminated or adjusted. And since the production flow's interrupted, there are also risks for that company's customers."

"There's a financial impact too, as costs have to be incurred, for example, for recall and product destruction. Or the company is held liable for the damage to clients in the chain. Next, the business's reputation may suffer due to the loss of trust in it or a brand, leading to falling sales. And finally, there might be continuity issues when, say, the cause of the contamination cannot be eliminated in time. A company can get insurance to cover the financial fall-out, but there are many other ways to limit this risk," explains Vincent.

Well prepared through crisis training 
“Insurance can, indeed, provide a safety net in the event of a recall. But that isn't always the desired solution," adds Niek van As. Niek is a Crisis and Resilience Advisor at COT/Aon, the Institute for Safety and Crisis Management in the Netherlands. He advises other government agencies and companies in the food and other sectors such as education and emergency services on risk, continuity, and crisis management.

"Most of my job involves sessions, crisis training, and exercises. Because, if a risk arises, a well-prepared organization is much stronger. We actively assist clients if something goes wrong. We do things like providing the services of professionals, like specialist lawyers, (food) technicians, and waste processors, from our trusted network. And afterward, we evaluate the entire process, to learn along with the organization and, where necessary, make future improvements."

Integral risk analysis
Risks in the fruit and vegetable sector are, of course, not limited to food safety. There is an entire spectrum of them. "Every two years, Aon therefore conducts a Global Risk Management Survey. We do a broad round-up of companies from all sectors to see where they face the biggest risks. Our ultimate goal is for businesses to develop an integral view and approach to their risks," Niek continues.

"This survey shows the top ten risks in the Netherlands, with cyber security- a topic often in the media - at number one. For example, a while ago, supermarkets suddenly had no cheese. One of the suppliers had been hacked, which affected the store too. Companies rate business interruption, labor shortage, reputation damage, and disruption in the logistics chain as high risk too. Depending on the risk, we and the businesses set priorities and can get to work."

Linking risk analysis and practice
“When a company approaches us, we first analyze it to show what the risks are, and what effect they could have, financially, and for continuity and reputation," Vincent continues. "Then we draw up a plan that includes prevention and crisis management measures, should that risk occur. For recall risks, that's called a recall plan."

"It describes all the procedures and assigns responsibilities, so all steps are clear to all the involved departments and management. Niek adds, "But it doesn't stop there. If you want to be well prepared, you must test, train, and practice. We always base these training sessions on company-specific practical situations, so we paint a realistic picture of what a company could face during a crisis."

Recall insurance
“Clients, of course, also contact us for other risk insurance. We offer recall and product contamination insurance policies that cover, for instance, destruction, consultation, replacement, and redistribution costs," Vincent says. "It's, naturally, the customer's choice which risks they're willing to run and for which they want to be insured, as well as which route they want to take with us. We advise and offer various services, such as risk analysis, preparing a recall plan, and a customized insurance policy as part of the solution."

Never risk-free
“Setting up protocols, making good contractual deals with suppliers and buyers, not depending on one commercial partner, and regular crisis team meetings are all risk management elements. But, ultimately, many business activities are simply human processes," he continues.

"In the food sector, food safety is, thus, by definition at risk. A risk that's hard to prevent. Companies may think things around food safety are well organized with adequate production and distribution processes, but there are always outside factors at play. You can never rule these out. We continuously monitor and give advice on these risks."

Increasingly strict requirements
In Europe, especially in the pandemic's wake, fruit and vegetable companies have food safety high on the agenda. From the governments' side, permitted substances in cultivation and processing requirements are also becoming stricter, and controls are being stepped up. Companies certainly form part of this narrative because if things go wrong, it makes the news right away, making damage to reputation unavoidable.

There are also requirements when taking out contamination insurance. "If a Dutch company wants to import grapes from India, we advise them to get insurance regarding maximum residue limits," Vincent explains. "That means the insurance broker, and we, consider the risk the insurer is prepared to bear and when that might happen."

"That, of course, also involves samples. It could happen that an insurer refuses to insure the import of certain products from certain countries or proposes an expensive policy. That's why it's all the more important to think about other ways to reduce risks. Companies not insured through Aon are welcome to approach us for advice or a risk analysis," Vincent concludes. (PB/PDC)

For more information, see

Vincent Spierings
+31 (0)6 50 09 38 25 

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