Dr Zoltan Syposs

Group QSE, Director, Coca-Cola HBC

Interview by Joe Whitworth, editor for Food Quality News

1. Why is it important for Coca-Cola to speak at such events and listen to/meet others in the industry?

As our beverage portfolio has diversified and increased, in addition to our core business (sparkling soft drinks), it is important that we learn from other industries and step change our food safety mind-set and capabilities.

2. How does Coca-Cola manage microbiological sensitivity with the product mix you have and different countries having different regulations?

We look very carefully at the local legislative requirements, and then after that initial assessment, we also apply our own internal requirements, which are composed of a set, standardised KORE requirements defined by The Coca-Cola Company. These requirements and standards go beyond the local legislative requirements and form our global Quality & Food-Safety Governance. We always adhere to the stricter standards and thus aim to remain ahead of the local legislative minimum requirements. As we increased the sensitivity of our portfolio; including beverages such as natural mineral water, juice, value added dairy products, isotonics and iced teas, the undisputable compliance of the relevant Quality and Food Safety requirements is paramount to our business. 

Besides the increased legislative and company requirements, the number of natural ingredients we use have also grown and impacted the complexity of managing microbiological sensitivity throughout our supply chain. With our supplier guiding principles and controls through our manufacturing, distribution & marketplace processes, Coca-Cola Hellenic applies an end-to-end approach when it comes to microbiological standardisation.

3. What are some of the focus areas when putting together HACCP or risk management plans for beverage production environments?

We strongly believe that the HACCP requirements and documentation remain a foundational pillar of our overall food safety and quality management system. Like many other players in the industry we have experienced situations where the HACCP system, despite all the best efforts, has, perhaps due to lack of disciplined attention, became obsolete and lost its proactive signals. We have learned our lessons and made a conscious decision as a company to step-change our food safety and HACCP applications. We put this into a food quality and safety step-change documentation framework with defined PRPs and Critical Control Points, and then cascaded the knowledge and end-to-end responsibility to the shop floor, from operator to plant management level. We have also gone beyond manufacturing and extended the food safety management system requirements to distribution & market-place, where the responsibilities are increasing and the complexity of our portfolio has grown. For example, we now have examples of cold chain delivered products which is new to us. Through this step-change plan, which is driven through leadership emphasis, messaging consistency, continuous control, training and feedback, we have slowly but surely delivered much better quality HACCP and overall food-safety plans. We will do everything in our power to use HACCP in a continuously evolving way in our operations.

4. The amount of sugar in drinks has been a topical issue lately, when removing it how does this impact the microbiological safety/spoilage issues?

Removing sugar in most of the cases may increase microbiological sensitivity but it depends on several factors. For example, substituting sugar with other natural, nutritive ingredients, reducing carbonation levels and/or eliminating preservatives have clearly increased the microbiological sensitivity of our products. Bottling these, new formulations on the same sparkling soft-drink lines requires a very different level of GMP approach. But ultimately I would say that, it is not the reduction of the sugar but using more and more sensitive ingredients, which have increased the overall microbiological sensitivity of our portfolio. Thus to manage this increased sensitivity on a day to day basis it is critical to continuously move our capabilities to the next level.

5. Bio-based packaging and novel ingredients have also been a growth area but what considerations are taken on the microbiological side when working with these?

It is a huge opportunity for Coca-Cola Hellenic but also for the entire industry. CCH has been proudly named three times in a row as World-wide Sustainability Leader in the Beverage sector per the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Sustainability clearly is a critical enabler for us which is integrated in our business processes. Applying bio-based packaging material in many of our markets we have not experienced microbiological sensitivity differences between bioPET and classical PET material, either recycled or virgin.

6. Coca-Cola relies on supply chain partners – how do you ensure they follow the same standards you do?

We have a validated and complex, end-to-end supplier approval system that is very robust and at the same time continuously evolving system. It consists of several elements such as approval of suppliers, product/ingredient certification, System audits and System maintenance, coupled with risk-based unannounced audit approach. We clearly require all our suppliers to meet the GFSI and the Coca-Cola Company KORE requirements. Together with The Coca-Cola Company Technical Business Unit partners we have established a continuous, transparent supplier performance monitoring system which not only allows all involved parties to track quality and food safety performance but allows us to jointly improve quality performance and run segmented analysis at all times.