In the world of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), image is everything. For the food and beverage sector, competition is fierce no matter what the product. Therefore the outward appearance and quality associated with a brand must be taken very seriously. Consumers have the means, via various media outlets, to report any dissatisfaction more or less immediately, and any recalls that may be required as a result can have huge financial consequences.

A product recall is no longer a note on a supermarket notice board. Media are quick to latch on to negative stories, and the resulting social media storms from consumers themselves could see loyal customers switching brands quickly and for good.

Meeting consumers’ expectations is a challenge that is taking on increasing complexity. According to a 2015 survey by global risk management firm AON, damage to brand reputation is now as big a concern to the food and drink sector as the price of raw ingredients. Implicit in almost every brand is a promise to deliver correctly sized, shaped and visually appealing product to each consumer every time. Using X-ray inspection technology, each unit of production or product zones can be inspected for mass, fill level, correct placement within the package and missing components – ensuring quality and consistency across each and every production run.

In addition to detecting anomalies, x-ray inspection systems are capable of rejecting those products that do not meet requirements, reporting information to process control and communicating directly with filler machines. On top of protecting brand and reputation, a direct return on investment can be accumulated by a manufacturer through controlling the amount of waste resulting from fill level inaccuracies. By reducing product overfill and under fill (which can result in product being rejected on the line), the savings that manufacturers can make are substantial.

Toeing the regulatory line

In addition to food safety recalls, fill levels and product weight inaccuracies can also cause concern if undetected and can lead to the same costly recalls – inevitably leading to negative brand perception. To allow packages that are under-filled to enter the retail supply chain can have severe consequences. The Three Packers Rules in the UK and the U.S. Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (Part 500), for example, both state that packages should not be less, on average, than the nominal quantity stated on the label.

There are allowable variations that take into consideration unavoidable deviations throughout the packaging process, but they do not leave a great margin for error and are often open to misinterpretation. Fines for non-compliance in the United States have been in the tens of thousands of dollars for nominal units of product. X-ray inspection systems allow manufacturers to set maximum and minimum fill levels and mass measurement parameters, which ensures that products falling outside of acceptable levels are rejected from the line and never enter the retail supply chain.

Inspection programs bring rewards

The identification of contaminants and the execution of simultaneous quality assurance checks  ̶  such as fill level and mass measurement  ̶  is critical to food and beverage manufacturers looking to achieve consistent quality levels. X-ray systems can be tailored to meet specific product inspection requirements and, importantly, look at 100 percent of product passing down production line. Whether packaged, unpackaged or in bulk, physical contaminants and product defects can be identified and removed before reaching the retail supply chain, helping manufacturers to avoid costly recalls and damage to brand reputation with no loss of productivity or production speed.

The integrity of a product is every bit as important as the product itself and employing an advanced product inspection system that can perform multiple functions means those risks inherent in manufacturing at scale can be better controlled by the production process. In addition, retailers are increasingly demanding higher levels of inspection in order to safeguard their own reputations and x-ray is now a common requirement. By working with experts to implement the correct system, manufacturers can not only protect their own brand, but can also place themselves in a far better position to win contracts from major retailers as opportunities present themselves.