Quality assurance of ICA products

The products ICA sells obviously have to comply with laws regarding for instance labelling and ingredients. Quality tests and follow-up inspections are made regularly by ICA's suppliers as part of their quality program. In addition, ICA makes random samples based on a risk assessment, which is updated annually by product category. All of ICA’s corporate brand products undergo sensory and quality tests on their way to becoming finished products. The sensory tests evaluate appearance, odour, taste and consistency. Ingredients, nutritional information and other properties are detailed in internal product specifications. In addition to sensory and quality tests, ICA tests how well the product works, as in the case of baking powder, washing detergent and household appliances. All products are examined and approved to ensure that they comply with ICA’s policies and internal guidelines. Packaging information is also inspected and approved.

In 2013 the ICA Group carried out a total of around 8,300 (9,000) tests on private label products, of which around 2,200 (2,700) were sensory tests on new and existing products.

Following the horsemeat scandal

ICA customers need to know they can rely on the content of the Group's products. Quality work during the first quarter therefore focused heavily on the international scandal involving horsemeat in processed beef dishes.

The scandal has become an industry problem throughout the world. The parties involved in the horsemeat scandal were spread across 16 countries through complex chains involving many intermediaries. The food industry needs to assess what can be done to detect fraud at an early stage. ICA is keen to be involved in driving such developments.

Hepatitis in frozen strawberries

In May a strain of hepatitis was discovered in frozen strawberries in several Nordic countries. ICA Sweden found no connection to the outbreak of hepatitis A in its own frozen strawberries, but recalled the products anyway due to unclear origin labelling. In December the authorities found a new suspected link between ICA’s frozen berries and a customer who had fallen ill with hepatitis. ICA recalled directly affected products, but again analysis found no sign of infection in ICA products.

In November ICA and other industry representatives took part in a follow-up meeting at the National Food Agency concerning the case of the strawberries. Work to ensure the safety of frozen berries will continue in the industry and in dialogue with the authorities during 2014.

Origin labelling

In connection with the outbreak of hepatitis related to frozen strawberries, customers asked why ICA indicates the packing location – in accordance with legislation – but not the country of origin on the packaging of ICA brand frozen strawberries. For some product groups ICA already goes further than is required by law, for example in labelling products containing meat and most dairy products. In 2014, ICA will review how to improve origin labelling for even more products.

Insecticide in melons

In August it was discovered that a batch of honeydew melons, of which ICA Sweden had sold a small quantity, contained traces of the banned insecticide carbofuran. The pesticide was detected in a control sample in the Netherlands, after which the supplier and the Swedish authorities were alerted. Unfortunately, the information reached ICA only after the products had passed their expiry date. ICA ended its contract with the supplier and an investigation was conducted into why the information had reached ICA so late. ICA also reviewed its routines for monitoring alerts from authorities outside Sweden and has initiated a more in-depth study of insecticide-related issues.

Additives and E numbers

The debate in Sweden on food additives is still ongoing. Many consumers have difficulty understanding what E numbers stand for and question whether they are really necessary. ICA’s position is that additives should be used restrictively and only if they add value for the consumer, e.g. by improving food safety. In accordance with current laws, ICA clearly declares all additives in the list of ingredients, so that customers can make informed decisions.

Animal welfare

ICA products must be manufactured under decent conditions. Animals should be treated well, and natural ingredients should not be altered without good reason. Products sold by ICA should be traceable to when and where they were manufactured. When it comes to fresh meat, ICA imposes stricter requirements on animal welfare than EU legislation and refuses to sell meat from the Belgian Blue breed of cattle.

For the ICA I love eco range, all animal-based ingredients must be approved according to KRAV in Sweden or Debio in Norway, both of which place more stringent requirements on animal welfare than the EU. ICA’s private labels “ICA Selection Gårdsgris” pork and “ICA Selection Naturbeteskött” free range beef also help to safeguard the wellbeing of animals.

Genetically modified food

ICA takes an essentially positive view of new technology that provides consumers with better products. For ethical and environmental reasons, however, the Group questions the production and cultivation of genetically modified foods and crops (GMO) that are not produced in a closed environment. Genetically modified foods and ingredients must be kept separate and must be traceable. Consumers are entitled to information on whether a product comprises or contains ingredients with genetically modified origins. No such products will be included in the ICA product range. Decisions on whether to include such products in the product range are taken by ICA’s Executive Management.

Pharmacy products

In 2009 the Swedish pharmacy market underwent changes which resulted in a number of ICA stores deciding to sell certain non-prescription drugs. During 2010 ICA Sweden also opened full-scale pharmacies under the name "Cura apoteket" (Cura pharmacy) in a number of major ICA stores around the country. At year-end 2013, 58 (48) Cura pharmacies were established. Cura pharmacies had around 75 (50) private label items in the product range in 2013. In rural areas many ICA stores had been agents for pharmaceuticals for some time previously and thus already offered pharmacy items.

The pharmacy market presents great opportunities as well as challenges for a food retailer. The Medical Products Agency (MPA) has strict requirements regarding how non-prescription drugs are to be displayed, to prevent them falling into the wrong hands. ICA conducts ongoing dialogue with the MPA and sees the regulations as a good starting point to ensure customer safety.

Recalls

If it is suspected that a product ICA has sold may pose a health risk, ICA contacts the responsible supervisory authority, takes the product off the shelves and distributes a press release concerning a recall. A recall is always followed up with the supplier through a visit and/or documented feedback on the measures the supplier has taken to prevent any reoccurrence. In total, the ICA Group carried out 55 (36) public recalls in 2013. Of these, 31 (21) were by ICA Sweden, 11 (13) by ICA Norway and 13 (2) by Rimi Baltic. None of these recalls resulted in a fine or a warning for ICA Gruppen.

Public recalls of private label products included Delish Lasagne Bolognese on 18 February when traces of horse meat were found in analysis. On 24 May a recall was carried out for ICA “Salta pinnar” (salted sticks) due to a risk of the product containing traces of sesame seeds, and on 18 June ICA frozen hamburgers were recalled after self-inspections revealed the presence of salmonella. On 3 July ICA “Basic Strawberries” and ICA “Basic Berry Mix” were recalled due to unclear origin labelling and the risk of hepatitis A. The presence of salmonella was indicated in ICA mince in a routine check; the mince was recalled on 8 September.

For less serious quality problems, such as a difference in texture or appearance, problems with labels or small labelling mistakes, the batch is withdrawn from warehouses and stores. In 2013 the ICA Group withdrew 954 (984) products; ICA Sweden 91 (80), ICA Norway 95 (93) and Rimi Baltic 768 (811). Of these, 357 (307) were private label products.


       
Product recalls and withdrawals, ICA, number 2013 2012 2011
Total 1,009 1,020 1,170
Private label products 383 318 371