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1 2 Store Brands / December 2015 / www.storebrands.info should develop a new product or not," says Howard Popoola, vice president, quality assurance, Topco. "We then leverage our sensory panels to provide clear, objective insight. In addition, we utilize secondary trends that we solicit from our suppliers to guide our development process. In the end, it is a holistic strategy that encompasses Topco, members and suppliers." Known for safety, quality While Topco places a heavy emphasis on member in- volvement, the cooperative is also intensely interested in its more than 1,200 suppliers and the long-standing strategic relationships it has with each one of them. For instance, Topco's category teams work closely with the suppliers to not only meet Topco's high standards for quality, safety and innovation, but also "meet the promises of Topco's proprietary brands and our members' own brands," Hooks says. Part of that relationship includes reinforcing Topco's quality and safety standards, Popoola says. To do that, Topco created a Supplier Product Quality and Safety Expectations Guide that details all of its quality tiers and stresses that the quality of its national-brand- equivalent products will be equal to or better than that of the national brand standard. Topco also devel- oped effective product safety and quality management systems and embraces its Quality Assurance Mission by exhibiting core competencies in the safety and quality and regulatory and nutrition arenas. In fact, Topco performs risk assessments for quality and safety on each and every one of its products, working solely on a formula basis. "For instance, Topco and its members are preparing to address the new FDA guidelines for removal of partially hydrogenated oil from food products and is well positioned to react very quickly to nutrition labeling reform when the proposed rules become final," Popoola says. Other areas where Topco stresses quality assurance include its mandate that all supplier food facilities be certified to a Global Food Safety Initiative benchmarked scheme, while non-food facilities must complete a risk assessment questionnaire and submit a third-party inspection report from a recognized agency along with the supplier's corrective action response, if applicable. Topco also evaluates each supplier participating in a Topco-procured category with required product sampling, to ensure quality consistency, as well as sensory evaluation for new, reformulated and existing products, he says. Of course, quality assurance does have its Topco Associates LLC, at a glance Headquarters: Elk Grove Village, Ill. Top executive: Randy Skoda, president and CEO No. of own brands: 24 No. of own brand SKUs: 14,300 Approximate no. of suppliers: 1,200