|Q & A|
Lately we've been seeing a lot of press releases from wineries and suppliers touting their ISO certifications. "We've obtained ISO 9001: 2000," they trumpet. Great! But what exactly does that mean?
In simple terms, ISO certification verifies a company's compliance to a set of globally accepted s tandards for quality management and operational systems. The name ISO refers to both the Greek word for equal, and the International Organization for Standardization, a worldwide federation established in 1947 with a mission to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services. More than 90 countries use the ISO standard.
According to Anke Varcin, head of public relations for ISO, the organization's function is to develop the standards that auditors use to evaluate companies seeking certification. "ISO ... does not audit organizations and does not issue certificates attesting to the fact that they conform to ISO standards," Varcin explained. "Certification is carried out independently of ISO by some 750 certification bodies around the world. ISO does not control their activities."
How does ISO determine its standards? "What happens is that the need for a standard is felt by an industry or business sector which communicates the requirement to one of ISO's national members," Varcin said. "The latter then proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. If accepted, the work item is assigned to an existing technical committee. Proposals may also be made to set up technical committees to cover new scopes of technological activity. In order to use resources most efficiently, ISO only launches the development of new standards for which there is clearly a market requirement."
There are many different types of certification, depending on the company's function and the year in which certification was issued. "Previously, 'ISO 9000-certified' organizations were actually certified to one of the three standards in the 1994 version of the ISO 9000 series: ISO 9001, ISO 9002 and ISO 9003," Varcin said. "The scope of these standards differed, but they were of equal rank." (For more information about the various certifications, visit the ISO Web site: iso.org.)
In 2000, the revised and improved ISO 9001:2000 standard was introduced to replace the 1994 versions. Organizations certified to the 1994 versions were given until Dec. 15, 2003, to upgrade to ISO 9001:2000. Both ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 concern the way a company goes about its work--but not directly the result of this work. However, the way in which a company manages its processes will obviously affect its final product.
So why seek ISO certification? "Deciding to have an independent audit of a management system ... is a decision to be taken on business grounds," Varcin said. Companies may decide to seek ISO certification for any number of reasons, including market requirements, customer preferences or staff motivation. Companies that adhere to ISO standards may benefit from increased demand for their products, more positive customer feedback and a reduction in costs.
On the subject of cost, there is no set price for certification. According to Varcin, it varies depending on such factors as the company's current quality management system, the size and complexity of the organization and the attitude and commitment of the top management.
Setting An Example
If anyone knows how the ISO certification process works, it's Lisa Farrell, director of communications for New York's Canandaigua Wine Company. Two of Canandaigua's wineries--Mission Bell, in Madera, Calif., and New York's Widmer's Wine Cellars--have obtained ISO 9001:2000, and several more of the company's California, New York and Washington wineries are scheduled to follow.
"Canandaigua Wine is making a concerted effort toward standardizing its processes throughout the production environment to gain discipline and sustainability," Farrell explained. "The ISO certification provides us with standard operating procedures, which include valuable communication and system feedback loops among Canandaigua Wine and its customers, employees and managers. It helps us document and control our manufacturing processes to help exceed customer expectations and ensure quality processes within our production environment."
To get the process rolling, Canandaigua worked with Dr. Judy Luchsinger, who consulted with Fetzer during its ISO certification in 1994. With Luchsinger's help, Mission Bell and Widmer's completed the following steps leading to their ISO 9001:2000 certifications.
|Applied to approved ISO-certifying bodies and selected Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance for auditing toward certification|
|Formation of ISO leadership teams at both wineries|
|Kick-off meetings held with employees at both wineries|
|Quality manuals created at both wineries|
|Employee training at both wineries|
|Audit and certification process, including all areas of production, bottling and distribution, including internal and external audits conducted by an assessor representing Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance.|
"After the external audit, the assessor then makes a recommendation for or against certification, which is reviewed by the management team of (the certifying body)," Farrell said. Both Mission Bell and Widmer's were approved after about a year.
"The (certification) standards are challenging to meet," Farrell said. "To pursue them, you must follow standard operating procedures as outlined in your quality manual and have the discipline and focus needed to follow these consistently and in a highly efficient manner. This process demands strong leadership from senior management and a sense of commitment and teamwork among employees at all levels."
Is Getting Certified Worth The Effort?
To get the inside scoop, we asked wine industry suppliers (listed in the W & V Buyer's Guide/Directory) to tell us why their companies took the plunge, and whether or not they're happy with the results. This partial list represents a random sampling.
Supreme Corq, Inc. Kent, Wash.
According to marketing manager Joyce Steers-Greget, Supreme Corq decided to pursue ISO certification "to ensure a consistent, quality product ... to ensure continuing customer satisfaction and effective process controls ... and to receive a globally recognized quality process certification." The company earned ISO 9001:2000 in July of 2002. "Our customers are pleased that we have taken this proactive step ... Some larger wineries or grocers require compliance to quality and food standards to be an approved supplier. As the wine industry becomes more global, ISO certification will likely be necessary to compete in this international arena."
M.A. Silva Corks, USA Santa Rosa, Calif.
"Our supplier in Portugal felt that the market was looking for companies that had that certification, that (it would give them) some sort of competitive advantage. They also felt that it would greatly improve the company's performance and (help it to) operate at a better standard," said company representative Neil Foster. After meeting the requirements for ISO 9001, Foster said, the company's product improved and business increased. "And also new markets opened up for us...and we noticed that we saw increasing business from (existing) customers. It's a positive thing, without a doubt."
Novembal San Francisco, Calif.
Though Novembal itself is not ISO certified, its supplier--TetraPak Plastics in Mexico--obtained ISO 9001:2000 in Nov., 2002. "We (felt) that is was important for our company to adopt a quality system like ISO, because this system permits us to integrate all of the company's processes--human resources, maintenance and management," said TetraPak ISO coordinator Adriana Flores. Since adopting ISO standards, Flores said, her company's clients feel more secure and the company's processes run more smoothly. "The most important improvement is the process standardization."
Scott Laboratories, Inc. Petaluma, Calif.
"In order for our growing company to continually improve we needed a good documented quality management system," said ISO lead auditor Mary Ann Changnon. "Also some of our customers were requiring ISO certification from their vendors." The company's cork and laboratory sectors were awarded ISO 9000:1994 in July of 1999, and all company sectors obtained ISO 9001:2000 in August of 2001. "We use ISO certification as a sales tool. We open our quality system to our customers so they can see our commitment to continually improve both our products and services. We have noticed improvements in many of our products due to improved processes as a result of customer input."
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