Manufacturers of products that come into contact with food often face a myriad of directives and regulations. While framework regulations provide a basis for verifying product safety compliance, various regulations apply to raw materials at different levels, which makes their interpretation challenging. Such regulations are in place for materials such as plastic, fibre products and printing inks. When a product consists of several materials, managing the big picture becomes more difficult. Moreover, the manufacturer must be able to interpret laboratory test results and test conditions.Eskimo Finland Oy
, a Finnish family business that manufactures cooking and packaging products for households and professional kitchens, faced these challenges. Consumers are familiar with such Eskimo brands as the Elmukelmu cling film and Tuplis and Vetsku plastic bags. In total, the Eskimo range of products consists of more than 500 products for cooking, preservation, packing and cleaning, as well as kitchen hygiene. Most of these are manufactured in the company's own factory in Lappi in Rauma, Finland. Some 10 to 15 per cent of Eskimo's products are exported.
Verification of product safety requires special expertise
"Product safety is a very important factor in the quality of our products. We are a small company and as such lack experts that specialise in the verification of product safety," says Pauli Aaltonen, Deputy Managing Director at Eskimo Finland Oy.
"We relied on the Declarations of Conformity (DoCs) provided by raw material providers without a true understanding of their contents."
"When we combined 5 or 6 raw material components into one individual product, we had to not only understand the compliance of the end product but also know how to communicate about it. Furthermore, we had to make sure that we did not make false promises. We also had to be able to answer questions from our clients' product safety experts."
VTT helps Eskimo manage product safety
Eskimo turned to VTT Expert Services for the special skills it was lacking.
"We initiated cooperation with VTT in 2012 to discuss some questions that required clarification. We wanted to ensure that we were compliant, and our consultative cooperation has deepened and continued ever since," Aaltonen says.
"We received hands-on support and training on product safety compliance."
Today, Eskimo has a deeper understanding of the requirements related to product safety verification and knows exactly what the raw material suppliers' DoCs are about. "There have been a few cases where we have identified shortcomings in supplier documentation."
"We have also issued DoCs for our own products, and this work continues. Our customers also ask detailed questions about conformity and we are now better equipped to give answers to them."
"We can trust VTT's solid expertise which permeates everything they do. Of course, service like this does not come cheap. While VTT Expert Services is a pricey partner for us,it is worth every cent. Without VTT we would not be where we are today."
Product safety management creates competitive advantage
Management of product safety has required sizeable investments at Eskimo, but Aaltonen believes they are worth it.
"I believe that Finnish knowledge and expertise in this area creates genuine competitive advantage in comparison with production in low-cost countries, for example. Everything may not be quite up to scratch there."
Increased regulation does not intimidate Eskimo. "As long as all manufacturers are treated equally, it will not be a problem. We continue to learn more about product safety verification and implement it systematically at Eskimo," Aaltonen says in conclusion.Illustrations: Eskimo Finland Oy.