Think like your clients...Why do they want to be certified?

So now your scheme is up an running. New clients are happily signing up for audits and certificates are being issued.

Do you really understand why they are going to all this trouble?

Sometimes a new idea, technology or product is conceived one way by the producer but used in a completely different way by the user. Understanding how your scheme is actually being used may be an eye-opener. 

It is true that in many cases a certification scheme is adopted because someone further down the value chain requires it. Let's say I am growing blueberries. My client comes and tells me that I have to be certified to the 'Green Blueberry' standard or my client will not buy my berries. Well that is fair enough, clients specify what they want and I either meet their requirements or find a new client.

So lets follow the value chain and ask each the folks at each link why they are specifying your new blueberry certification. Maybe the packer is specifying it because she feels it will increase her market share; she has access to certified berries and the market is demanding them. She may or may not be committed to your philosophy on blueberries but she is motivated to do what she has to do to get and stay certified.

Further down the chain you find a bakery that produces blueberry pies for sale in grocery stores. He may be motivated to add one more reason for his clients to continue to buy from him. His clients are clear to him that they want certified berry pies. For the baker it is one more way he can negotiate longer term contracts to supply pies to stores. His clients are less likely to shift suppliers just for price advantage if he can add the certification that adds value to his product.

Now we are at the grocery store, they want certified berries (and pies) because their customers want to feel they are getting healthy food that is not produced in a way that harms the environment or exploits workers. The grocery store is building a relationship with their customers so that they will choose their store over the completion. Certified blueberry pies are one more way they can do this.

While in this supply chain all the participants are happy, it may not always be the case.

One element of supply chain certification is that you can use the list of certified producers to skip over some folks in the supply chain. The baker for example could find a certified farm to buy from directly, skipping the packer completely. This could be better for the farmer and the baker but the packer looses business. The farmer could sell his berries for a little more and the baker could buy them for a little less than the packer charged and they both could come out ahead.

Disruption in supply chains is a common impact of certification, especially in long or complex supply chains. If the baker needed to source his berries from another country it can be expensive and time consuming to hunt up a supplier. But thanks to an online list of certified producers the job becomes much easier. The baker can purchase certified berries from halfway around the world, directly from a certified producer without having to buy through a broker or wholesaler.

In short, certification is good for those in the supply chain that can take advantage of the opportunities that it presents, it also can harm (or even put out of business) those packers, processors, brokers or others in the supply chain that certification may disadvantage.