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AsureQuality Organics - the tip of the organic iceberg

in Certification and Auditing
Author: Organics

The organics sector in Aotearoa, and worldwide, is booming. With organics already generating approximately $620 million in export and domestic market revenue for New Zealand each year, and an average growth rate of 6.4 % for the past three years, New Zealand organics are ripe for the picking.   

Supporting the organics industry, and New Zealand’s enviable track record and reputation for organic food quality and safety, is internationally recognised and respected organics certifier AsureQuality.  

Many organics growers and producers will be familiar with AsureQuality’s Organic Certification Programme. However, the organics team at AsureQuality is conscious that much of what goes on pre and post audit in this critical industry sits below the surface of what a customer typically sees. To find out more, we spoke with Mark Hawker, Senior Auditor, and Matt Gallagher, Technical Manager – Organics and Horticulture, at AsureQuality, to discover just what goes into the organics auditing and certification process; the value of partnering with AsureQuality; and what the team sees on the horizon for New Zealand’s organics’ industry.  

“In a nutshell, AsureQuality’s role is to deliver evaluation, verification, and certification services for customers so that they can make an organic claim on their products and services. However, that face-to-face time we spend on site during an audit is just the tip of the iceberg – because organics is one of the most complex, diverse and interesting areas of the primary industries and so too needs to be the depth and breadth of the support that AsureQuality provides,” says Mark Hawker. 

According to Mark, much of that complexity comes down to the all-encompassing term ‘organics’ – one broad category that incorporates a lot of diversity. And, where other areas of the primary industries are often very much focused on one set of rules, one standard, one regulator - with organics, an individual operation will likely need to be assessed against both local and multiple international regulatory standards, for multiple products, and multiple scopes or touch points in the supply chain. 

Matt Gallagher is quick to agree – and to emphasise that the true value of partnering with AsureQuality is the team’s expertise and ability to translate much of the inherent complexity of verifying and certifying organics as it currently stands both here in Aotearoa, and overseas.  

“We achieve that, and we are helping you to stay focused on why you’re in this industry in the first place – to take premium organic products to supermarket shelves around Aotearoa and the world,” Matt says. 

AsureQuality Organic Certification Process 

The AsureQuality Organics team share their knowledge and expertise to help customers determine what actions to take. This includes help translating what is necessary from an audit perspective based on which standards are required and which markets the product is intended for. An AsureQuality Auditor assesses the production, processing, and handling of products across the entire supply chain including retailers; inspecting and verifying to the internationally recognised and respected AsureQuality Organic Standard. Once Certification to this standard is achieved, producers or brand owners have the opportunity to use the AsureQuality Organic Certification Mark on-pack – adding additional in-market support for their product. 

Layered on top of that is AsureQuality’s ability to audit and certify customers against a number of international Organic Standards which allow customers to gain global market access including IFOAM Accreditation, MPI Official Organic Assurance Programme, USDA National Organic Program and the Canadian Organic Regime. 

“And that list of individual countries establishing their own standards is being added to constantly, to keep up with consumer demand for sustainable, ethical and authentic natural products”, Mark says.  

“Within New Zealand, for example, the Asia region is a growing organics export market, with South Korea, China and Japan all establishing unique standards that the AsureQuality team is able to verify and certify against to gain market access for our customers.”    

AsureQuality Organics: An integrated, best practice approach delivering a gold standard service  

The AsureQuality Organic Certification Process is delivered via AsureQuality’s dedicated and dynamic team who have extensive experience in the organics sector. They are also the only organics team in Aotearoa with permanent organic auditors – not contractors, meaning unparalleled knowledge of, and commitment to, organics - and consistent results customers can trust.  

According to Mark Hawker, one of the greatest strengths lies within individual auditors who, when they arrive on the paddock or processing plant, bring the integration of all of their diverse backgrounds and expertise. Because the vast majority of the team have been involved in various other compliance and regulatory programmes, they offer a genuine understanding of what customers are going through, the difficulties they face with some of these programmes, their specific needs, and a knowledge of how to proactively support them. 

“Yes, I’m doing organics, but because I've also got a Risk Management Programme (RMP) auditing background, if I'm going to a beekeeper, for example, I know what the RMP requirements are, so we can take that into account and make the process easier and more efficient for them by using similar records. There are also obvious cost-savings due to our ability to bundle up audits,” says Mark.  

In addition to their professional creds, both Mark and Matt are quick to point out that every member of the team also brings a personal commitment to this industry.  

“All of us see that organics answer a lot of the questions and challenges that the New Zealand primary industries are facing at the moment - whether that's greenhouse gas requirements, freshwater regulations, or safeguarding our biodiversity”, says Matt.  

“Organics farmers and growers are already well ahead of the curve compared to many other areas of the primary industries. Organics are the ultimate proof-point: Where non-organic or conventional farmers and growers often come with the opinion, when considering different chemical inputs, that there’s no other way. Well - organics farmers can clearly point to their experience and say, there is another way and it works.  

“And that’s also knowledge our organics team continually builds on by working side-by-side with our customers – and can then take that back to share with our conventional farming customers,” says Matt.  

Adding to the strength and expertise that lies in individual AsureQuality organics auditors, behind the scenes the team is also harnessing the value of the extended AsureQuality offering for customers. 

“That’s why we often talk about what the customer sees with AsureQuality Organics Programme is just the tip of the iceberg - you might see one person, but standing directly behind them is an integrated team of over 1700 with insights and expertise in the food and primary industries that you simply can’t access anywhere else,” says Mark. 

A one-stop-shop delivered via a one-central-point-of-contact approach, the organics team members regularly engage the expertise of other areas of the business on a customer’s business – getting their input, review and feedback.  

That integration also extends to the strength and weight of the AsureQuality being owned by the New Zealand Government, “it’s another layer of reputation, trust and credibility – and a key reason why many customers choose to partner with us,” he says.  

In practice - and again behind the scenes - that looks like the AsureQuality organics team advocating on the behalf of customers with regulators to, for example, simplify the processes required for organics both here and overseas, improve market access, and advise on upcoming organics legislation.   

“We all are acutely aware that the current reality is not ideal - different standards, for all of these different markets, and new markets constantly developing their own additional standards to that list. In an ideal world, different standards would recognise each other, have equivalents, and Aotearoa would have our own organics legislation. We are still working on the former, and the latter is well down the track. It’s a work in progress but progress is definitely being made, “says Matt  who has been actively involved with this progress. In recognition of Matt’s expertise and of AsureQuality’s commitment to the organic sector, Matt was appointed to the Organic Exporters Executive team, was part of Organic Aotearoa New Zealand’s (OANZ) Sector Strategy Leadership Group and is also member of MPI’s newly formed Organic Advisory Council – all of which are focused on growing and supporting the organic sector as a whole.  

With domestic and global demand for organics products only set to continue, Aotearoa growers and producers are in a prime position, with the support of AsureQuality, to meet that demand.  

“There are nothing but opportunities for growth in this critical market segment. Our job at AsureQuality is to support customers to verify and certify their organics claims – to ultimately provide trust in that food. It’s really about partnership with our customers - collaborating and sharing knowledge to enable their success is what we do best.“ 

To find out more about the AsureQuality Organics Standard, and how we can work together, go to Organic Certification