ISO certification: should you get it?

ISO certification: should you get it? – International Organization for Standardization certification in the wine industry

Tina Caputo

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of press releases from wineries and suppliers touting their ISO certifications. “We’ve obtained ISO 9001: 2000,” they trumpet. Great! But what exactly does that mean?

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In simple terms, ISO certification verifies a company’s compliance to a set of globally accepted standards for quality management and operational systems. The name ISO refers to both the Greek word for equal, and the International Organization for Standardization, a worldwide federation established in 1947 with a mission to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services. More than 90 countries use the ISO standard.

According to Anke Varcin, head of public relations for ISO, the organization’s function is to develop the standards that auditors use to evaluate companies seeking certification. “ISO … does not audit organizations and does not issue certificates attesting to the fact that they conform to ISO standards,” Varcin explained. “Certification is carried out independently of ISO by some 750 certification bodies around the world. ISO does not control their activities.”

How does ISO determine its standards? “What happens is that the need for a standard is felt by an industry or business sector which communicates the requirement to one of ISO’s national members,” Varcin said. “The latter then proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. If accepted, the work item is assigned to an existing technical committee. Proposals may also be made to set up technical committees to cover new scopes of technological activity. In order to use resources most efficiently, ISO only launches the development of new standards for which there is clearly a market requirement.”

There are many different types of certification, depending on the company’s function and the year in which certification was issued. “Previously, ‘ISO 9000-certified’ organizations were actually certified to one of the three standards in the 1994 version of the ISO 9000 series: ISO 9001, ISO 9002 and ISO 9003,” Varcin said. “The scope of these standards differed, but they were of equal rank.” (For more information about the various certifications, visit the ISO Web site: iso.org.)

In 2000, the revised and improved ISO 9001:2000 standard was introduced to replace the 1994 versions. Organizations certified to the 1994 versions were given until Dec. 15, 2003, to upgrade to ISO 9001:2000. Both ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 concern the way a company goes about its work–but not directly the result of this work. However, the way in which a company manages its processes will obviously affect its final product.

So why seek ISO certification? “Deciding to have an independent audit of a management system … is a decision to be taken on business grounds,” Varcin said. Companies may decide to seek ISO certification for any number of reasons, including market requirements, customer preferences or staff motivation. Companies that adhere to ISO standards may benefit from increased demand for their products, more positive customer feedback and a reduction in costs.

On the subject of cost, there is no set price for certification. According to Varcin, it varies depending on such factors as the company’s current quality management system, the size and complexity of the organization and the attitude and commitment of the top management.

Setting An Example

If anyone knows how the ISO certification process works, it’s Lisa Farrell, director of communications for New York’s Canandaigua Wine Company. Two of Canandaigua’s wineries–Mission Bell, in Madera, Calif., and New York’s Widmer’s Wine Cellars–have obtained ISO 9001:2000, and several more of the company’s California, New York and Washington wineries are scheduled to follow.

“Canandaigua Wine is making a concerted effort toward standardizing its processes throughout the production environment to gain discipline and sustainability,” Farrell explained. “The ISO certification provides us with standard operating procedures, which include valuable communication and system feedback loops among Canandaigua Wine and its customers, employees and managers. It helps us document and control our manufacturing processes to help exceed customer expectations and ensure quality processes within our production environment.”

To get the process rolling, Canandaigua worked with Dr. Judy Luchsinger, who consulted with Fetzer during its ISO certification in 1994. With Luchsinger’s help, Mission Bell and Widmer’s completed the following steps leading to their ISO 9001:2000 certifications.

* Applied to approved ISO-certifying bodies and selected Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance for auditing toward certification

* Formation of ISO leadership teams at both wineries

* Kick-off meetings held with employees at both wineries

* Quality manuals created at both wineries

* Employee training at both wineries

* Audit and certification process, including all areas of production, bottling and distribution, including internal and external audits conducted by an assessor representing Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance

“After the external audit, the assessor then makes a recommendation for or against certification, which is reviewed by the management team of (the certifying body),” Farrell said. Both Mission Bell and Widmer’s were approved after about a year.

“The (certification) standards are challenging to meet,” Farrell said. “To pursue them, you must follow standard operating procedures as outlined in your quality manual and have the discipline and focus needed to follow these consistently and in a highly efficient manner. This process demands strong leadership from senior management and a sense of commitment and teamwork among employees at all levels.”

Is Getting Certified Worth The Effort?

To get the inside scoop, we asked wine industry suppliers (listed in the W & V Buyer’s Guide/Directory) to tell us why their companies took the plunge, and whether or not they’re happy with the results. This partial list represents a random sampling.

Supreme Corq, Inc. Kent, Wash.

According to marketing manager Joyce Steers-Greget, Supreme Corq decided to pursue ISO certification “to ensure a consistent, quality product … to ensure continuing customer satisfaction and effective process controls … and to receive a globally recognized quality process certification.” The company earned ISO 9001:2000 in July of 2002. “Our customers are pleased that we have taken this proactive step … Some larger wineries or grocers require compliance to quality and food standards to be an approved supplier. As the wine industry becomes more global, ISO certification will likely be necessary to compete in this international arena.”

M.A. Silva Corks, USA Santa Rosa, Calif.

“Our supplier in Portugal felt that the market was looking for companies that had that certification, that (it would give them) some sort of competitive advantage. They also felt that it would greatly improve the company’s performance and (help it to) operate at a better standard,” said company representative Neil Foster. After meeting the requirements for ISO 9001, Foster said, the company’s product improved and business increased. “And also new markets opened up for us…and we noticed that we saw increasing business from (existing) customers. It’s a positive thing, without a doubt.”

Novembal San Francisco, Calif.

Though Novembal itself is not ISO certified, its supplier–TetraPak Plastics in Mexico–obtained ISO 9001:2000 in Nov., 2002. “We (felt) that is was important for our company to adopt a quality system like ISO, because this system permits us to integrate all of the company’s processes–human resources, maintenance and management,” said TetraPak ISO coordinator Adriana Flores. Since adopting ISO standards, Flores said, her company’s clients feel more secure and the company’s processes run more smoothly. “The most important improvement is the process standardization.”

Scott Laboratories, Inc. Petaluma, Calif.

“In order for our growing company to continually improve we needed a good documented quality management system,” said ISO lead auditor Mary Ann Changnon. “Also some of our customers were requiring ISO certification from their vendors.” The company’s cork and laboratory sectors were awarded ISO 9000:1994 in July of 1999, and all company sectors obtained ISO 9001:2000 in August of 2001. “We use ISO certification as a sales tool. We open our quality system to our customers so they can see our commitment to continually improve both our products and services. We have noticed improvements in many of our products due to improved processes as a result of customer input.”

Keyes Fibre Corporation Wenatchee, Wash.

According to maintenance manager and ISO coordinator Len Geren, the company originally obtained ISO 9002:1994 because “at the time, it was a corporate mandate.” Since then they’ve come to appreciate the benefits of certification. “There have been several benefits,” Geren said. “On the process side, one engineer was adamant that we did not need to calibrate consistency controllers. Only when we arrived at a procedure, then implemented that procedure did we realize that the controllers were so far off, we were unable to troubleshoot problems properly, since the data from the controllers was inaccurate. Another issue was consistency from one shift to another. Documented procedures brought all the shifts in line with each other, eliminating the ‘I do it this way’ problems.”

Stanpac, Inc. Lewiston, N.Y.

“When a customer or prospect knows that Stanpac is ISO registered, they understand that we have a system in place that is designed for continuous improvement throughout the organization,” said company representative Alice Habartova. “It also provides workers with clear direction on how to perform work resulting in consistent quality.” The company was awarded ISO 9002 in 2000 and will upgrade its certification this fall.

“Through the use of our nonconformance reports, we identify the problem areas, correct the problem and develop a preventive action to prevent the same problem from happening again,” Habartova said. “Stanpac’s cost in nonconformances has been reduced by more than half from 2000 to 2002. In summary, we are extremely happy with the ISO system we have in place.”

ADI Systems, Inc. New Brunswick, Canada

According to manager of communications Colleen Mitchell, ADI obtained ISO 9001:1994 in 1997. “The program has had several benefits,” Mitchell said. “We were able to eliminate redundant forms and procedures, we document customer satisfaction, and procedures have been streamlined. We can now track, statistically, feedback from our customers.” And the feedback, Mitchell said, has been “overwhelmingly” positive. “We deal with customers all over the world, so it gives them a better sense of our commitment to quality and thoroughness.”

Henry Molded Products, Inc. Lebanon, Penn.

Doug Henry of Henry Molded Products said he believes ISO certification is worth pursuing because “it’s a good way to manage in-house quality systems and customer requirement responses.” It’s also a good way to let clients know your company is committed to quality. “It is generally an understood discipline among all customers and producers and gives new customers a certain degree of confidence,” Henry said.

ETS Laboratories St Helena, Calif.

“We are currently accredited to ISO 17025,” said quality manager Larry Kent. “Unlike the ISO 9000 standards, our accreditation requires us to provide ongoing proof of technical competency. A company that manufactures concrete life vests can be certified under the ISO 9000 standards, even though the product is essentially useless, as long as all their documentation is in order and they can show that they follow the procedures described in that documentation. Whereas our accreditation (would require) us to show that our life vests can keep a person afloat.”

Despite the tough standards, Kent said the company felt it was worth the effort. “Customers have expressed appreciation for the effort we have put into ensuring that they can have greater confidence in the test results we provide for them.”

Sabate USA Napa, Calif.

“Our clients have become more and more demanding for everybody to be (ISO) certified and this is what we do to meet their demands,” said logistics coordinator Annette Barret-Simpson, translating a response e-mailed by Francoise Laurens in France. Sabate’s parent company in France has been certified ISO 9002:1994 since 1996. “It was mainly to please the clients and give them assurance that all the stages of production are followed.”

FES Systems, Inc. York, Penn.

According to Teresa Sauble, an increase in international business led her company to obtain ISO 9001 in 1998.

“Some of the markets we do business with require all of their vendors to be ISO certified or you do not have an opportunity to get on the bidders list,” Sauble said. “It also gives the company additional credibility both domestically and internationally. One of our goals is customer satisfaction and continual improvement. We were always looking for ways to improve our products, services and organization as a whole, but this allows us to be more aware of the areas that need improvement.”

Westfalia Separator, Inc. Northvale, N.J.

“In our chemical pharmaceutical, and municipal wastewater divisions the question of ISO certification is always an issue,” said sales representative Mike Hoer. The company obtained ISO 9001 in 1996. “In the process of developing the procedure, areas of improvement are always discovered and implemented–but they are only procedures,” Hoer said. “They are not a substitute for dedicated individuals who must implement them or a replacement for the core values of a company. The ISO standards do change and re-certification is required every few years, which will keep you from becoming complacent. The next set of standards involves management participation and customer satisfaction and is due for us in 2004. It is an ongoing process.”

Nomacorc LLC Zebulon, N.C.

“Nomacorc believes in the benefits of ISO, such as customer satisfaction, continuous improvements and processes consistencies,” explained quality director Leyla Peymandoust, who added that the company is still pursuing ISO 9001: 2000. “Due to rapid growth, expansions, and new added resources, ISO took a back seat for almost a year,” she said. “Now we are actively working to achieve it. Our final audit is scheduled for midNovember, and we feel confident that our quality management system will be ready by then.”

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