BRCGS Agents and Brokers: Why We Did It and How. By Emily Brighton.

North South Wines has just emerged from a BRCGS ‘Agents and Brokers’ accreditation project that started in January 2020 and resulted in an ‘AA Grade’ award: The highest rating possible for an announced audit.

We are all absolutely thrilled with the outcome, but there is no escaping the fact that the project demanded a lot from us as a business over the last eighteen months.  

The numerous management meetings, process reviews and documenting that has taken place hasn’t exactly been pain free.

So, what compelled North South Wines – an already thriving company – to take on such an undertaking? And, has the investment been worth it?

BRCGS Agents and Brokers explained

As the individual who has been responsible for the smooth running of North South Wines’ accreditation venture, I’m perhaps a good person to tackle these questions.

But first let me explain what BRCGS is and why it attracted us in the first place.

The BRCGS Agents and Brokers standard was first introduced in 2014.

As stated on its website, the standard “provides a framework to manage product safety, authenticity, quality and legality for businesses in the food, packaging and consumer products industries that buy, sell or facilitate the trade of products.”

Putting it simply, it’s an industry benchmark that’s made for the likes of our ambitious wine agency.  

Its importance to us

As a UK wine distributor, we source and supply wine from all over the world to UK retail, wholesale and independent customers. Our mission is to simplify and improve wine distribution by ensuring product integrity and quality throughout the chain of supply from producer to consumer.

It is important to us to make sure that what ends up with our customers is great quality, safe, legal and exactly as expected.

And this is where formal recognition from Agents and Brokers comes in.

Reasons behind accreditation

The initial decision to secure Agents and Brokers was made mainly to establish North South Wines as a market-leader for quality assurance. Ultimately, we want to make sure we have a preventive framework in place to protect the consumer from harm.

Not only does accreditation give us peace of mind that we’re doing what we can to responsibly source and deliver interesting, good value wine, it provides our customers with an extra level of confidence in us as a supplier partner as well – especially as we will be subject to annual re-audits as part of ongoing accreditation.

By taking delivery of our wine, anyone who buys from us knows that we have been audited to the highest standards and that they are indeed working with a ‘safe pair of hands’.

A culture of quality

We also want to instil a ‘culture of quality’ right the way through our operation – whether that’s quality of service, process or product. Agents and Brokers helped us do this by providing a quality framework, which we used to create our own series of quality-led systems.    

Finally, we also hoped that new and existing customers would look at us more favourably and that the recognition would give us a competitive edge when tendering for new business, particularly for own and exclusive-label projects.

All things considered, pursuing Agents and Brokers just made sound business sense to us. We therefore put the wheels in motion – and set off on a journey that would not only result in accreditation but culminated in us receiving an impressive grade too!    

A meticulous process

Playing a leading role in the project, my goal was to do whatever necessary to take North South Wines through the audit.

My focus turned to documenting and implementing a new set of sixteen procedures and nine policies, which – among other things – set out to:

  • Make sure our services and operations met required safety and legal obligations
  • Standardise and communicate emergency procedures
  • Put control measures in place for internal auditing, traceability testing and complaints trending
  • Ensure robust supplier management via thorough approval process and annual review
  • Monitor progress via monthly technical meetings and regular management meeting updates

The documents have been collated into a single, comprehensive technical quality manual that sits at the heart of the company and – via our company Quality Policy and annual objectives – underpins the roles of everyone at North South Wines.

And it doesn’t stand still: All procedures are subject to ongoing, scheduled review which must be documented to facilitate continuous improvement.

The challenges of accreditation

One of the more challenging aspects to securing Agents and Brokers is that it reaches beyond the walls of your own business and into the territory of your partners and suppliers.  

At North South Wines, we work with around thirty wine producers. The audit required us to seek assurances and evidence from each of these companies to demonstrate that they too had the right systems in place to ensure quality throughout their supply chains, from raw material sourcing to the bottling process.

In each instance we were required to review evidence from our wine producer partners about everything from their hazard and risk analysis and vulnerability assessments to traceability testing and production site controls. This would often require translating complex documents from French, Italian or Spanish.

Checks are now in place to make sure claims about production, ingredients and allergens can always be backed up, and we hold 100% accurate product data, as a way of mitigating risk to the consumer.   

As well as this, we were required to reach out to our haulage and warehousing partners to make sure their shipping and storage methods met the required criteria. These checks help us maintain greater control over our supply chains, as transparency has been greatly improved.   

Giving time and attention

The accreditation demands people’s time – there’s no getting away from this fact – and this can become even more problematic if you’re working in a busy, dynamic environment, like at North South Wines.

The new systems that we implemented demanded a change in routine for some of the team, yet we all recognised early on that nothing good was ever going to come easy. This was a long-term commitment. Thankfully the benefits of new procedures and guidance presented themselves quickly.  

This new, overarching way of approaching the day-to-day permeates everything we do on the product and supplier management side. Collectively, it’s making a positive difference to our decision making, service and output.

Benefits to us

In retrospect, the experience of becoming Agents and Brokers accredited was quite professionally cathartic for many of us. It forced us to consider every aspect of our business and the way we were working through a fresh pair of eyes.

As a result, we are now operating more efficiently and proactively, and we are future-proofing the business as it rapidly grows.

Even some of our customers have noticed the change.   

Benefits to all

Thanks to the hard work of the North South Wines team and stakeholders, the wine industry now has one more key player that has signed up to a set of specially designed quality standards.

And in our opinion, the more companies that join us the better.

By going through the process of BRCGS accreditation, we are playing our part in reducing potential customer complaints and product-related incidents, which are time-consuming and costly for everyone implicated.  

As a result, consumers – as well as the businesses in the supply chain – win.

So yes, the work involved in gaining BRCGS Agents and Brokers has been intense, but it’s also been worth the investment for so many reasons.

To find out more about BCRGS ‘Agents and Brokers’ please visit the company’s website.