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Food regulations requiring businesses to provide full ingredients lists and allergen information on pre-packaged products, called Natasha’s Law, will come into effect from 1st October, but most business owners admit they aren’t ready for the changes.
Despite 90% saying they have received plenty of information about the new rules, four in 10 admitted they had never heard of Natasha’s Law, and eight in 10 business owners said they felt unprepared, according to GS1 UK, a provider of global supply chain standards which commissioned the survey.
The introduction of the new regulations follows the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette. “Natasha’s Law represents a hugely positive, yet complex transformation for the food sector – one fraught with risk,” said Henry Dimbleby MBE, author of the National Food Strategy. “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,” he added.
The sense of uncertainty was even more pronounced among small businesses, as around 50% more chain and franchise employees said they had heard of Natasha’s Law than those in small, independent food businesses.
The survey of food manufacturers, wholesalers and grab-and-go retailers revealed that a fifth of small businesses feel the new legislation is coming in too soon and does not give them enough time to adapt. Less than half (48%) of employees in independent businesses have heard of Natasha’s Law, compared to 79% of employees from chains and franchises.
It follows a boom in new food and drink businesses during the pandemic, an estimated 44% of which operate from their homes, leading to fears around food and hygiene standards. Natasha’s Law targets businesses like delis and cafés which make fresh food on-site, but just over half of these SMEs have taken steps to be in a “good position” ahead of October, GS1 UK found.
The steps most businesses were taking ahead of 1st October included: taking items off the menu, demanding more from current suppliers, warning customers of the upcoming changes, changing suppliers if they can’t provide allergen information and implementing new processes and data management tools.
Training could prove key to boosting awareness of allergens too, as four in 10 said they didn’t’ feel 100% confident that they could answer a customer’s question about allergens – but just 39% are providing training on types of allergens.
The lack of preparation among smaller businesses could stem from stretched finances as well as the disruption from the pandemic. Indeed, 67% said the Government should be providing more financial support to help businesses make the transition, and over half said they would have to spend money on changing packaging because of the new law.
“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,” said Chris Tyas, chair of GS1 UK.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
To find out more about Natasha’s Law, click here.