Keeping up with regulatory requirements and voluntary food safety standards is a moving target. You’re never done with your food safety plan and quality systems because things change. You change suppliers and identify new hazards. Companies are acquired, consumer demand shifts, new products are developed, and government and industry standards evolve constantly.
Food safety consultants are invaluable for food and beverage manufacturers to help identify and fill gaps in their systems. To explore what it’s like working on the front lines with food companies trying to adapt to the ever-changing food safety landscape, TraceGains sat down with one of its Certified TraceGains Partners – Nancy Scharlach – founder and president of Soterian Systems and FSMA International.
When did you first recognize that partnering with TraceGains could be useful for you and your clients?
Nancy Scharlach: My company – Soterian Systems – began its journey with TraceGains back in 2015. We teamed up to offer a joint webinar on how to pass GFSI audits. Since TraceGains had such a solid reputation in the industry for putting on informative, educational webinars, I knew working with them would help showcase my credentials and services. I’ve gained a tremendous amount of contacts for sales and marketing, which has helped grow my business. The relationship evolved into a partnership because we realized our services are complementary and could meet the needs of our food industry clients more holistically.
How are TraceGains solutions complementary to your services?
Nancy: I’m an expert at training and developing, monitoring, and evaluating food safety systems. I go into facilities, and often they don’t have any of the necessary documentation or programs in place, and we must start from scratch. It’s hard to believe this is still happening, but it is. I realized my clients could benefit from TraceGains because it helps streamline and automate recordkeeping and provides deep insights into quality and compliance issues throughout their supply chain. I think of TraceGains as my “leave-behind technology.” I can get clients up and running with proper systems and documentation, but they need TraceGains to keep the recordkeeping current and continually monitor suppliers.
How do those conversations go when you recommend TraceGains to your clients?
Nancy: I consider it part of my job to refer clients to credible products that can help them get where they need to be. My services alone are not the only solution to their struggles. I can tell them what rules and standards they must follow, write and train policies and programs, and alert them to pitfalls they might face. But it’s is not always everything they need to ensure long-term, sustainable, system-wide success. They need technology to help monitor and onboard new suppliers, track incoming material, document internal processes, and share that information across the supply chain. When I sit down with senior management in an audit preparation situation, I tell them we have a solution to get them away from paperwork and put them on a platform to manage these things collaboratively with suppliers and customers. And usually, the client sees the synergy between the expertise I bring and the technology tools TraceGains offers.
Can you give an example of how the synergy between Soterian Systems and TraceGains benefits your clients?
Nancy: Getting clients through audits can be very difficult. The amount of paperwork involved from start to finish is overwhelming. I still find clients using three-ring binders, spreadsheets, emails, and filing cabinets to store and manage their food safety documentation. When an auditor must plow through mountains of paperwork, they can get sidetracked and will see the information they don’t need or shouldn’t see. That gives the auditors opportunities to go down one rabbit hole after another. When you put your documents and data in the cloud, your auditor only sees what they need to see. A few clicks of the mouse, and you can show them what they need to understand and move on.
We endorse TraceGains products so our clients can streamline their GFSI programs, and their audit processes can go paperless. With TraceGains’ cloud-based electronic records, it dramatically changes the audit experience. It also helps my company be more successful when taking on new GFSI or FSMA projects because if they use TraceGains, we can get them more organized by ditching paper documents. TraceGains allows you to have many of your required documents ready as soon as you connect to your suppliers in TraceGains Network. Our clients trust our knowledge and listen to our advice about software options. If you can move your clients to TraceGains products, it’s beneficial for everyone.
How has aligning yourself with TraceGains helped you grow your business?
Nancy: The relationship with TraceGains has given me access to their growing network of customers, suppliers, and the industry. I’ve spoken at TraceGains’ annual conferences, we’ve jointly published FSMA resources and other co-marketing activities. That exposure has translated into more clients – specifically some large clients. TraceGains is already known and accepted in the industry, and when I showcase my knowledge and stand there as a TraceGains partner, it gives me even more credibility.
TraceGains has also endorsed my services through press releases and blogs, which is virtually free advertising for my company and has helped our credibility as a training and consulting firm.
What does TraceGains get from the relationship with you and your two companies?
Nancy: When I see a client who needs help updating the way they manage supply chain documents and data, I keep them in touch with TraceGains. Sometimes I join my clients in the product demonstrations with TraceGains, but most of the time, I submit my clients’ contact information through TraceGains Partner Resource Center, and they take it from there. Of course, I always tell my clients to do their due diligence and explore other systems.
What do you get for referring clients to TraceGains?
Nancy: When I make a software recommendation to a client and subscribe to a TraceGains solution, TraceGains pays me a referral bonus. I don’t hard sell my clients. I make a recommendation and leave it up to the client and TraceGains to see if it’s a match. I referred clients to TraceGains long before they started the bonus structure under the new TraceGains Certified Partner Program because of their technology. Now I refer clients, and there’s a little something in it for me on the back end. It’s real money in my pocket.
How does TraceGains treat their Certified TraceGains Partners?
Nancy: They treat me like part of the family. They listen to my advice on ongoing system improvements. For example, we’ve collaborated on ways to collect information that helps with Supply Chain Preventive Controls. TraceGains’ mission is to revolutionize information exchange across the supply chain, and I feel good about my role in influencing much-needed changes in our industry. We’re creating a more reliable food safety and quality community by linking manufacturers to the best industry tools to manage GFSI and FSMA programs.
What advice would you give to other consultants or trainers considering becoming a TraceGains Certified Partner?
Nancy: Do it. The networking opportunities can help increase your client base. The benefits go both ways. I refer clients to TraceGains, and they refer customers to me. It’s been a great journey for us at Soterian Systems. It is a win-win situation that has proven results for our companies.
Want to be ready for any audit at any time? For more tips and best practices, download our eBook, “Are You Ready for an Audit” here.
Nancy Scharlach is president and chief technical director at the food safety consulting firm Soterian Systems and sister company, FSMA International, both based in the Denver metro area. Nancy holds a bachelor's degree in microbiology from the University of Montana and has worked in the food industry her entire career. With more than 20 years of experience, Nancy has worked for nationally recognized companies such as The Schwan Food Co., The Hain Celestial Group, and Jamba Juice Co. She is a lead trainer for FSMA’s Preventive Controls for Human food and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, and a lead trainer through the International HACCP Alliance.