How EFI is Scaling Data Management Processes Using Technology

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“Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) brings growers, farm workers, retailers and consumers to the table to create a safer, more equitable food system. Growers in the EFI program invest in their workers and are committed to creating a culture of continuous improvement.”

Equitable Food Initiative is a workforce development and standard-setting nonprofit that trains agricultural workforces and certifies farms in the fresh produce supply chain.  The program has certified 37 farms across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. EFI was created by visionaries from across the food supply chain — a group of stakeholders that represents the entire value chain.

EFI’s Director of Certification and Impact, Kenton Harmer, explains that EFI has been able to convene such a diverse group because of structural issues that are endemic in the historic model for how fruits and vegetables are grown, harvested, and sold.  These include the treatment of workers, shortage of labor, a market that purchases largely on price that creates counter-incentives for growers to invest in developing the workforces, and frequent food safety recalls that disrupt a retailer’s continuity of supply and add expensive liability.

“These organizations came together to build a third-party certification program which includes a comprehensive workforce development component, as well as a consumer-facing label,” explains Harmer. “It’s extremely important to first provide the skills and tools necessary for workers and managers to constructively collaborate.  That way any corrective actions required by the audit can be addressed with durable solutions that draw upon the full expertise available within the farm gate.

Lexie DeGrandchamp, Senior Impact and Information Management Officer, says when she joined the EFI team in 2016, there were no technology systems to manage the certification process. The company was still in a proof-of-concept phase, trying to determine if they could be successful working on different kinds of farms in multiple countries with varying cultural contexts.

“Once we determined that it would work and we were ready to scale, that’s when we began looking at solutions,” says DeGrandchamp. “It was really exciting in 2019 when we were ready to move from an Excel-based data management system to a more integrated platform. But because we’re still a small company, we didn’t want to break the bank or purchase something beyond our scope of need. That’s why FoodLogiQ was a really great solution for us. They met us where we were as a company, and during our first interaction, they said, ‘Let’s make sure this is the right solution for your size.’ We knew FoodLogiQ could scale with us.”

One of EFI’s biggest challenges is that they work with three certification bodies, who use different Excel tools. The process of managing audit reports is both time-consuming and complicated.

“By automating and getting these groups onto the Trustwell Connect platform, we’re going to be able to ensure more consistency and less administrative burden for our auditors, our certification bodies, and our EFI staff,” says DeGrandchamp. “There are only 14 people in our entire company, and just three people in our certification department. We’re doing a lot of work for such a small team, generating 40 to 50 audits per year. Now we think of FoodLogiQ as our fourth certification employee!”

The EFI team was hesitant about buying too much software for their company, but they wanted a system that could grow with them. DeGrandchamp feels FoodLogiQ hit that sweet spot with their configurable platform.

“Having an integrated corrective action management process with our audit system, our scheduling system, and our initial data collection is going to be a real value-add for our certification bodies,” she explains. “It’s also going to be a value-add for growers who don’t have to juggle multiple documents in Excel to ensure compliance. Now we won’t have to rely on email communication for this anymore.”

EFI predicts more than 75 users from different companies will be using Trustwell Connect, given the nature of how third-party certification works. This includes certification body staff who schedule the audits and perform the corrective action management, plus the food safety and social compliance auditors who visit the farms. According to DeGrandchamp, having them all on the same platform will be extremely beneficial.

“I’m really excited to have this opportunity to develop our audit management system in FoodLogiQ. I think the platform is going to be such a great resource for everyone.”