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The escalating complexity of food processing operations coupled with stricter regulatory control make the choice of raw materials, equipment, ingredients and service suppliers more critical than ever. Suppliers must understand client needs and the total business environment. The relationship between supplier and processor is now more a partnership than a one-time transaction. For example, a processor might demand third party verification of the grower's ability to meet GAPs during crop production, GMPs in shipping, and proscribed quality standards upon delivery. The processor, in turn may need to demonstrate a workable HACCP plan to the buyer, certify the quality in addition to the safety of the final product. Retailers may demand traceback assurance back to the farm. Equipment manufacturers equally have extended obligations relating to the safety, sanitary construction and durability of their wares.

These interrelationships complicate juice production logistics, but they are the unavoidable price of doing business. There are some positive features of this system. Product uniformity, safety and quality are apt to be higher. Unpleasant, well-publicized recalls are minimized. When recalls do occur, implementation is more efficient and liability assessment is less ambiguous.

In addition, suppliers have a much better grasp of industry needs and have developed improved products to meet the demand, albeit at a higher cost. Communications and information transfer between suppliers and processors are much easier. There are few suppliers that are not listed in trade journal guides, together with toll-free phone listings plus, increasingly, Internet addresses. Competition demands it. Therefore processors can readily obtain preliminary information on all possible supplier services. Upon review, they can target explicit inquiries to the appropriate supplier sources.

This is the situation in the developed world. It's more difficult to perform this process in the developing world for the following reasons:

Fortunately, the situation is changing for the better. The international network of suppliers is growing along with reliable representation. (`Reliable' is the operative word here. Shady wheelers and dealers continue to represent unaware suppliers to the detriment of clients and businesses). Therefore, juice processors must network carefully, become aware of their technical needs and economic limitations and explore supplier alternatives thoroughly. The technical and trade literature, industrial exhibits, Internet links and personal contacts via networking are all essential tools in building and maintaining supplier relationships.

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