Majority of UK food businesses are unprepared for the new food regulations

  • October 1, 2021
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Pret sandwich allergies

Four in ten across the food industry have never heard of Natasha’s law despite the new legislation coming into immediate effect today.

This lack of awareness increases further still when looking at independent businesses with half having never heard of the new legislation.

Eight in ten food business owners admitted they feel unprepared for the new food regulations coming into effect, despite 90 per cent saying they have received plenty of information about the new law.

The research commissioned by GS1 UK – the global provider of interoperable standards which cover 90 per cent of UK retailers is at the heart of it’s  Feed us the Facts campaign, calling for extra transparency from the entire food industry in order to protect and inform people and businesses.

Natasha’s law requires all food businesses to provide full ingredient lists and allergen information on foods pre-packaged for direct sale in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It follows the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse after she suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette.

The study of businesses – which include food manufacturers, wholesalers, grab and go retailers – found that 80 per cent of chains and franchise welcome more definitive and explanatory packaging whereas this figure was less than half amongst small independent businesses.

What’s more, one fifth of small independent businesses feel the new legislation is coming in too soon and does not leave enough time to adapt, whereas just 2 per cent of food chains and franchises held this view.

Small, independent food businesses boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated 44% of all food businesses launched during lockdown being home-based. Often selling though social media, fears have arisen that many are not registering as food businesses meaning local authorities cannot check hygiene and food standards.

Only 48 per cent of employees in small independent businesses have heard of Natasha’s law and are the least likely to have heard the new regulations when compared to employees in other businesses, potentially posing a major health risk to customers. There is a stark difference when compared to the 79 per cent of employees from chains and franchises who were aware.

In total, 86 per cent of business owners said it should be compulsory for food packaging to detail all possible allergens. The research showed that chain and franchise businesses are much more likely to be putting in place measures to help navigate the changes and be compliant come 1 October.

Yet, despite there being agreement across the board concerning the implementation of the new regulations, just over half of small and medium sized businesses have taken steps to be in a good position ahead of the new law. Alarmingly, only 39 per cent are providing training on types of allergens and more than one in five say that they are awaiting further training and guidance. Getting ready for new legislation takes time and money and 67 per cent believe there should be more financial support from the government to help businesses with the transition.

Six in ten business owners are now worried about allergic reactions happening at their property – yet four in ten do not feel 100 per cent confident that they could answer a customer’s questions about allergens within their food items. This is further compounded by previous GS1 UK consumer research which showed that 60 per cent of sufferers do not feel comfortable asking about allergens in dishes when eating out and would rather ‘take the risk’ instead.

Over half of those surveyed said the new law will lead to money being needed to be spent on changing packaging and crucially 50 per cent said they would need to get more information from suppliers and find a better way to collate such information.

The new regulations will pose problems and challenges for businesses across the supply chain. The results show that 79 per cent of chain and franchise owners would change suppliers if current suppliers cannot provide the correct allergen information.

Henry Dimbleby MBE, author of the National Food Strategy said: “Natasha’s Law represents a hugely positive, yet complex transformation for the food sector – one fraught with risk. It is worrying that the awareness of the changes is inconsistent, but not particularly surprising after everything the sector has had thrown at it over the last 18 months. It’s therefore fantastic to see a data solution that will help companies, particularly smaller companies, make the required changes while reducing both bureaucracy and the opportunities for error.”

Chris Tyas OBE, chair of GS1 UK and former acting director of Food Supply and chair Food Resilience Industry Forum commented: “One of the biggest concerns surrounding Natasha’s law is whether businesses will be able to quickly and accurately get up to date allergen information – especially smaller businesses whose ingredients may change daily. Yet the research shows that these small businesses are the least prepared.

“It is vital that the whole food supply chain has the ability to capture and access the full range of allergen data to implement the requirements of Natasha’s law. To comply successfully we believe the continued digitalisation of the supply chain is much needed.  A recommendation that is also at the heart of the recently released National Food Strategy.”

James Bielby, CEO of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, commented: “GS1 UK’s research highlights that it is vital businesses have access to a supplier’s full set of product information, with the stats making it clear that businesses across the industry would switch suppliers if they cannot provide the correct allergen information. The FWD is working hard to bring the industry together to collaborate on how to best provide information to food business operators ahead of Natasha’s law.”

Anne Godfrey, CEO of GS1 UK said: “We believe that 2D barcodes – like a QR code or DataMatrix– should be used on a products packaging, no matter what type of product it is. These barcodes can hold significantly more information about a product and can also link to additional data sources which either a supplier or consumer can access through a quick scan. By having a set of global standards product information can be shared in a standardised way in real-time, making it an easier process than the current back-and-forth over email and phone between supplier, wholesalers and sellers – a certain recipe for misinformation and confusion.

“To achieve this, GS1 standards must be used to ensure information can be accurately collected in a way that will ensure interoperability between a myriad of systems and technology platforms.

“The FSA, the FSS and various trade associations have done a fantastic job in raising awareness of Natasha’s law amongst industry, with nine in ten businesses aware of the new legislation. As such, the responsibility now lies with the 80% of business owners that currently feel unprepared to take swift action to ensure compliance ahead of 1 October.”

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Majority of UK food businesses are unprepared for the new food regulations