The Mars Chocolate Recall: Bittersweet Supply Chain Lessons

March 03 2016

Mars, one of the world’s leading food manufacturers, hit the headlines recently following the recall of their popular Snickers chocolate bars.

The recall (described in this Guardian article), which affects 55 countries including UK, Germany and France, was announced after a customer discovered a piece of red plastic in a Snickers bar at the beginning of January. The plastic was quickly traced back to the company’s factory in the Netherlands, where it was found to have come from a protective cover used in the manufacturing process. Unable to determine whether the plastic was only in that particular Snickers, Mars launched a recall of all products manufactured in the Dutch plant as a precautionary measure.

The company now stands to lose tens of millions of dollars. But the scenario could have been much worse had Mars not been in such control of its supply chain. In this case, the offending object was immediately traced back to the Dutch plant, meaning the recall only affected the products manufactured there over a small time period. Without clear sight of its supply chain, however, Mars would probably have had to extend the recall across an even wider range of products, manufacturing dates, and territories, including the US.

Food manufacturers need to have full visibility throughout the supply chain

It’s hard not to think back to the so-called horsemeat scandal just three years ago, where Findus suffered a “PR nightmare and disaster”1 when its beef lasagne products were found to contain up to 100% horsemeat. You may remember that the Romanian abattoir that supplied the carcasses to Findus’ Dutch meat trader denied any wrongdoing. This claim would have been hard to challenge without full and thorough documentation on every party involved in the manufacturing of their products, from slaughter to shelf.

What can we learn from Mars’ recall campaign?
Mars’ recall may have been costly, but it could have harmed the company’s brand and bottom line far more had it not been able to track the affected product to determine where and when it was produced and where it was later distributed to. (If you want to know how you can steer your automotive business through a recall campaign you can read our blog post about that right here).

Recalls of food products are on the rise; in the UK alone, the FSA reported an increase of 78% in the past year.2

Just this week the Northampton-based Weetabix Food Company is recalling 550g packets of its Oatibix cereal over concerns that it could contain small pieces of soft blue rubber. Demonstrating the importance of effectively managing its product data, the company has isolated the potential contamination to just four production batches, minimising its risk and losses.

What we can learn  from both examples is that food manufacturers desperately need the visibility that comes from managing every aspect of information they hold from every part of their supply chain.

Food manufacturers with transparent supply chains can:

• effectively manage complex product information such as various product ingredients and their nutritional attributes as well as their origins

• easily adapt to new legislation and standards

• collaborate closely with suppliers e.g. in the form of common product information standards

• track products at every stage of their lifecycle, from origin to point of sales

Food manufacturers are using Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) applications to manage their products and process. But in some cases, that is not enough since the PLM system ends up being a data silo, isolated from other systems. Instead, they need a solution that can specifically manage the complex problem of gathering, managing, publishing, and sharing all product master data within the enterprise, across the supply chain, and at every stage of a product’s lifecycle. A Master Data Management solution will deliver the supply chain visibility needed to more effectively handle situations like Mars’ bittersweet chocolate recall.

PLM vs. PIM and MDM




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