This post is sponsored by TraceGains.
Anne Kraus knows the importance of a good education.
Kraus, the VP of quality at E.&J. Gallo Winery, and the daughter of a university professor and a kindergarten teacher, believes that to succeed in quality assurance and food safety, learning must never end.
“It is something my parents instilled in me — to always be a curious student, regardless of your age and stage in life, and to have fun learning,” she says.
By carefully studying the processes involved in product production, Krause finds it easier to manage problems when they arise, and to understand how product variations can originate.
Kraus’s scope at Gallo encompasses enterprise-wide quality and food safety — “I start at the grape, and go all the way to the consumer’s glass,” she says. She recently spoke with SmartBrief about lessons she’s learned from nearly 30 years of industry practice, including several years at General Mills and Quaker Oats before she joined Gallo in 2012.
What are some of the distinct challenges you face in ensuring food safety and quality in the wine industry?
One of the differences is that we start with the raw commodity, the grapes, and we really have an end-to-end quality and food-safety system in a global network. You can really track something clearly, from the quality of the grapes that you buy through to the finished model, and then get the reaction from the consumer.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned on the job through the years?
One is that it all starts with people. They are your greatest assets, and they are the ones that make decisions in the middle of the night on the production floor. They are the ones that come up with innovation, and translate what the product developers want to have materialize. The importance of staying close them, and understanding how decisions are made, and how to make their jobs easier, is probably one of the longstanding lessons I have learned over time.
A second area, which is just as important, is making sure that I always understand what is important to quality. For the consumer to buy a product a second and third and fourth time, the product has to be consistent, and it has to be different and better than a direct competitor. If we focus on what’s really critical, and on doing that every time, in pursuit of perfection, we’ll get that trust and loyalty of the consumer.
It’s also important internally. If you focus on what’s critical, it’s easier to make the tough calls you sometimes have to make when you are a quality and food safety professional. If it is something that’s critical, you don’t compromise. If it’s something that’s not critical, there’s more room to look at variation.
The last lesson is one that I learned through a risk-based event that happened several years ago: Always have an outside, independent verification system. You can lose calibration internally, or maybe internal systems are not performing like you think they are. If you have an outside, independent verification system, they can keep you on your true north journey, and maybe point things out that you might not see internally.
What are the qualities that make a good food safety and quality assurance executive?
I have had the pleasure of working around a lot of them. They are great teachers, typically, that can help you understand how to size up a problem, or help you figure out what the true problem is you are trying to solve. They also know how to find a way to build trust among executives and stakeholders, plus employees on the floor level.
How does having strong professional relationships with others across different disciplines help in quality assurance and food safety?
I think it’s becoming a trusted colleague to many. If you become that trusted colleague, people will come to you and tell you what’s not working. I learned from a colleague many years ago that whenever somebody brings you a problem, always say, “Thank-you for sharing that with me.” And then I try to work with them to solve it or improve it. By doing that, they will keep telling you things that you need to know.
Usually when you start doing that, they come to you when they start to sense a problem early — before there is a problem in the marketplace — which is the ideal situation.
How has technology changed the way you interact with suppliers?
Technology allows us to see a global snapshot at a moment’s notice, and that allows everyone to not only have data, but actionable information to mobilize a decision, to enact a solution, or allocate resources. It’s really become price of entry.
Short of that, there’s no substitute for having relationships at the supplier level or a production-location level, and the data doesn’t give you that. If you have good relationships in the network among your quality and food safety professionals, and you add to it the technology, you are really able to leverage it for good.