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Harmonised Australian retailer produce scheme (HARPS) frequently asked questions for horticultural growers

Publication date: 19 February 2021

General FAQs

What is HARPS?

HARPS stands for the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS). It is a world-first scheme, that harmonises all retailer-specific food safety, trade and legal requirements of each of Australia’s five major grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Woolworths, Costco and Metcash) as well as Hello Fresh and McDonald’s Australia into one scheme that all these retailers accept - so, instead of having six individual food safety audits, there is only one.

More information is on the HARPS website.

What Hort Innovation projects relate to HARPS?

The following projects led to the development of HARPS:

How did HARPS begin?

In 2012 Horticulture Australia Ltd (now Hort Innovation) initiated a project to harmonise food safety certification requirements for the major retailers in Australia. The result of this project is the Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS).

HARPS was an industry initiative. Industry approached Hort Innovation to ask for help in meeting multiple food safety schemes involved in supplying major retailers. Retailers agreed and were prepared to align their food safety requirements.

The initial HARPS project was funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd using across-industry levies and funds from the Australian Government. The scheme is voluntary and application for certification is open to all fresh produce businesses that supply the major grocery retailers. The project has been supported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

Over time, HARPS transitioned from being a project funded by Hort Innovation to a standalone entity, generating its own finances, in May 2020. 

How is HARPS funded?

Contributions that support the ongoing management and development of HARPS are received from HARPS participating retailers, as well as certification bodies and auditors that are responsible for auditing HARPS. Operational contributions are also received from growers and suppliers that are audited ($245.00 + GST per audit) and collected on behalf of HARPS by certification bodies.  

When was HARPS launched?

HARPS was launched in Oct 2016 and the major retailers accepted HARPS audits as an alternative to their own specific standards from this date. 

As of January 2021, more than 1,400 suppliers are now HARPS approved.

Do I have to use HARPS?

HARPS is a voluntary scheme and is only for suppliers to the major grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Woolworths, Costco and Metcash) as well as Hello Fresh and McDonalds's Australia, – so, growers can still supply farmers markets, central markets and independent green grocers without HARPS.

Who owns HARPS?

Hort Innovation initiated a series of projects to develop a process for achieving harmonisation of food safety requirements of the major grocery retailers and an auditor competency scheme, resulting in the development of HARPS. The first project started in 2011.

HARPS is a program that Hort Innovation owns and includes:

  • the HARPS Database
  • HARPS branding including the HARPS Logo
  • HARPS Website content
  • HARPS standards, checklists, rules, assessments, checklists, protocols, matrixes.

Who manages HARPS?

One Direction ANZ is the entity responsible for the ongoing management of HARPS. Following a competitive tender process run by Hort Innovation, a Management Agreement (Licence) was awarded to One Direction ANZ in May 2020 to manage HARPS. The Management Agreement details performance requirements to be met by One Direction ANZ on a six-monthly basis.

Who is the Stakeholder Working Group?

The Stakeholder Working Group, also known as the HARPS Retailer Committee, is made up of representatives from major grocery retailers (ALDI, Coles, Woolworths, Costco and Metcash) as well as Hello Fresh and McDonald’s Australia.

The Retailer Committee was established in 2012 to guide the development of the HARPS program and is the final decision maker. Hort Innovation is a member of the HARPS Retailer Committee.

What does the transition from a Hort Innovation funded project to One Direction ANZ mean for HARPS?

The ownership of HARPS remains with Hort Innovation, One Direction ANZ are responsible for the day-to-day management of HARPS. This includes promoting HARPS within the horticulture and retail sectors, issuing Approval Certificates, and developing, maintaining, monitoring and enforcing policies and procedures for auditors and certification bodies. This includes organising and facilitating meetings and workshops with retailers through the Stakeholder Working Group and the HARPS Technical Advisory Group (H-TAG) which includes membership from across the horticultural supply chain including Peak Industry Bodies, certification bodies and growers.

What are the responsibilities and accountabilities of auditors?

HARPS conducts calibration sessions for existing auditors and training of new auditors to ensure accuracy of the HARPS elements during audits, although the responsibility of auditor training sits with the respective certification bodies. All new auditors to HARPS must be approved to audit one or more of the HARPS approved GFSI programs, successfully complete HARPS training together with a written examination, as well as undergo a witness audit by a HARPS-approved witness assessor.

What is the HARPS Technical Advisory Group (HTAG)?

The HARPS Technical Advisory Group is made up of suppliers, growers, peak industry bodies, industry associations, auditors and scheme owners. It started in 2017 to enable other stakeholders to engage with retailers. Objectives include:

  • Industry Approach: key decisions adopt a “whole of supply chain” and risk-based approach
  • Element Review: current elements that have resulted in challenges or complaints are reviewed and amended; ensuring they are practical and realistic
  • Root Cause Analysis: issues leading to recalls, withdrawals or major nonconformances are investigated and elements refined as necessary
  • Ongoing Improvement: learn from incidents and include improvements in future revisions of HARPS including Version 2.0

The HARPS Technical Advisory Group includes representation from Tier 1 growers that work closely with their Tier 2 growers and provides recommendations and guidance to the HARPS Retailer Committee. Hort Innovation is also a member of H-TAG. HARPS always welcomes additional input from all industry stakeholders. If you would like to apply to become a member of the Technical Advisory Group, please email harps@harpsonline.com.au

Since release, how has HARPS contributed to improved food safety?

The approved GSFI standards go a long way to ensure the delivery of safe fresh produce, focusing on key food safety requirements, HARPS has been designed to enhance the rigour around specific food safety, trade and regulatory criteria that do not appear in the GFSI standards. Retailers identified specific issues that led to consumer complaints, rejections, withdrawals and recalls, which are a cost to suppliers and retailers. They are also the cause of consumer dissatisfaction and loss of consumer trust that can have long-lasting impacts. The additional level of prescription, above the GFSI schemes, include criteria such as foreign object management, control of weights and measures and protocols around the proper management of packaging and labelling.

Is there duplication with other standards such as Freshcare?

HARPS can be considered a bolt-on standard. It bolts on to GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) benchmark standards. These standards are a foundation for food safety and include Freshcare, GLOBAL.G.A.P., SQF and BRCGS. There is no expectation that a grower or supplier would need to duplicate any requirements that already exist within the GFSI standard(s) they have selected. Requirements have been included in HARPS if they are missing from one or more of these standards.

I am already certified to a base scheme, so why do I need HARPS?

HARPS has been designed to enhance the rigour around specific food safety, trade and regulatory criteria that do not appear in the GFSI base schemes. Retailers have never accepted the base schemes alone, and prior to HARPS, each retailer has their own requirements, as set out below:

  • Woolworths Quality Assured (WQA)
  • Coles Supplier Requirements (CSR)
  • ALDI Addendum
  • Costco Requirements

HARPS has harmonised the individual retailer requirements into a single standard that meets the requirements of all retailers.

This harmonised approach is unique to the fresh produce sector; all suppliers in other sectors across grocery and fresh foods, are still required to meet the retailers’ individual requirements, in addition to the GFSI base scheme(s).

HARPS version 2.0 - FAQS

Why is there a need for version 2 of HARPS?

HARPS 1.0 was launched in October 2016 and from this date retailers accepted HARPS audits as a replacement for their own specific requirements. The intention for HARPS 1.0 was to issue a standard to industry that could then be added to, so some sections, such as the section on Growing and the application of raw manure on product prior to harvest, were listed as TBC.

HARPS 2.0 proposes criteria for these sections and proposes other learnings that have been gathered since the development of HARPS 1.0 (which was developed in 2015).

What's changed in the new standard (HARPS 2.0)? 

In addition to the growing section on manures, HARPS 2.0 has proposed a section on Business Culture, that can be directly related to how much a grower or supplier supports and prioritises food safety in their business, and how employers can empower their staff to make smart decisions about food safety.

HARPS 2.0 proposes additional training requirements. Training is fundamental in assisting growers to understand what their trade and legal obligations are and how to meet these obligations.

HARPS 2.0 includes a guidance document to help with interpretation of HARPS and details if the requirement applies to a Tier 1 or 2 supplier (or both). This helps both suppliers and auditors in understanding what the expectations are more clearly and ensures accurate interpretation of HARPS elements.

Why was the public consultation period so short/over Christmas?

The development of the HARPS 2.0 standard started in July 2020. This involved a draft document being developed by an external third party following a competitive tender process, then the standard was reviewed by both the HARPS Technical Advisory Group and the HARPS retailers. It has taken five months to reach the final draft that has now been released for public consultation.

The original period of consultation was from mid-December to mid-January, however, based on feedback this was extended to the end of January.

Industry consultation for HARPS 2.0 has just concluded. What process will HARPS follow now that feedback is submitted?

All feedback received is subject to review. The HARPS Management Team will work with the HARPS Technical Advisory Group to develop recommendations for changes that will then be reviewed by the HARPS Retailer Committee. The HARPS Retailer Committee will review all recommendations and provide a response. Discussion and negotiation will occur until an agreement is reached on the best approach to meet the desired outcomes.

Responses will be provided to industry and all parties that provided feedback, in the form of an extensive Q&A once the information has been reviewed and considered by the HARPS Technical Advisory Group and HARPS Retailer Committee. The Q&A will provide answers to all questions raised in the feedback.

The current communication channels (HARPS Helpline, email and website) will still be available for any additional queries.

When will HARPS 2.0 be released?

Due to the volume of feedback received through the public consultation process the original release date of March 2021 has now been deferred and is yet to be determined.

The HARPS Technical Advisory Group and HARPS Retailer Committee will review and respond to the submissions and formulate recommendations which consider the feedback received and address the concerns raised, whilst ensuring there is no compromise to the rigour of the HARPS standard and the delivery of safe fresh produce in Australia.

When HARPS 2.0 is released, will there be a transition period?

When HARPS 2.0 is released, there will be a 6-month transition period from HARPS 1.0 to HARPS 2.0. Suppliers will have a 6-month window to continue using HARPS 1.0.

Why has mandatory training been proposed in HARPS 2.0?

Training is proposed in the HARPS 2.0 standard because it is the best possible way to achieve a smooth transition from HARPS 1.0 to HARPS 2.0. When training is not mandatory it can lead to more corrective actions raised when the new standard is audited for the first time.

This is often due to a lack of understanding and incorrect interpretation of the standard by the producer. This can potentially disrupt the ability of a producer to supply their retailer customer(s), but it can lead to an extended and more costly actions to then close out the corrective actions.

The mandatory requirement will be reconsidered as part of the review process.

Who are HARPS approved training providers?

HARPS will always control and manage the development of training content, with the ownership sitting with Hort Innovation, to ensure appropriate rigour and accuracy of all training material. Training will include face-to-face and online options.

Only HARPS approved training providers are permitted to deliver HARPS training, that is, HARPS have assessed the capability and competency of the training organisation and specific trainer(s) to ensure sufficient rigour and accuracy in the training content delivered. It is important that any HARPS training delivers the required learning objectives and suppliers are accurately informed.

To date, Quality Associates are the only HARPS approved training provider that have undergone a business assessment and witness assessment of training delivery as per the HARPS requirements. This opportunity is open to all training organisations and HARPS is in discussion with several training organisations.

Where contact details for HACCP training have been requested, the website details for multiple training providers have been shared. There is no single business that is a preferred provider.