Sunday, November 20, 2011

C is for Cookie ... and Certification

Hilltop Industries, which provides gainful employment to 350 community members with developmental disabilities annually, announced today that it has been awarded SQF 2000 – Level 3 Certification for secondary packaging of food by the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI). SQFI is a globally trusted, recognized and accepted food safety and quality program; SQF 2000 – Level 3 is its most stringent and highest level of certification.

The certification ensures that customers will find Original Gourmet Food Company cookies packaged by Hilltop Industries on the shelves of Target Corporation stores nationwide, and opens the possibility for Hilltop to gain certified supplier status from other retailers such as Wal-Mart that operate under a SQF mandate.

“This is clearly a story about abilities, not disabilities,” says Kellie Kennedy, Director of Hilltop Industries. "Our entire process has been evaluated and meets the most rigorous global certification available. Every person at Hilltop Industries played an integral role in achieving certification from SQFI."

Hilltop Industries is the vocational rehabilitation division of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming, the largest not-for-profit organization providing services to individuals with disabilities in Livingston and Wyoming counties (NY). Hilltop Industries provides labor on a contract basis for a variety of customer needs, including packaging, assembly and printing. The work is completed by individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, who are typically paid by the piece and are supported by Hilltop Industries staff.

Original Gourmet Food Company is among the largest customers at Hilltop Industries' Mount Morris, NY workshop. In 2010, Hilltop Industries packaged well over 1.5 million cookies for the Salem, NH-based confectionery giant. Chocolate chip and other cookies arrive at Hilltop Industries individually wrapped, where Hilltop workers prepare them for in-store display by placing each cookie into a metal tin with a decorative seasonal design for Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's Day, or Easter. The tins are then shrink-wrapped, and shipped nationwide for display on retailers' shelves.

Among those retailers: Target Corporation, which requires strict adherence by all suppliers to SQFI standards. But while it was the Target relationship that set Hilltop Industries' SQFI certification process into motion, the benefits of certification are more wide-reaching, Kennedy says.

"The point of it all is to have better confidence in the food chain," she explains. "The major retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart are taking the lead on it, but they dictate everything in the industry. When they start adopting standards, those standards tend to get pushed down to most everyone. More retailers will be setting up tight guidelines for the products that they carry; SQF certification is another way that Hilltop can help expedite placement of our customers' products in those stores."

The SQF program is a leading food safety and quality management system that is designed to meet the needs of suppliers and retailers worldwide. It provides independent certification that a supplier’s food safety and quality management system complies with international and domestic food safety regulations. This enables suppliers to assure their customers that food has been produced, processed, prepared and handled according to the highest possible standards, at all levels of the supply chain. SQF is designed as a food safety program, but it also ensures consistent product quality, to meet buyer specifications.

For additional information about Hilltop Industries, contact Sales and Marketing Manager Rebecca Crocker at (585) 658-3311 ext. 201.

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