Well that went fast, another year gone! Here’s a round-up of my thoughts on the events of 2018.
Brexit – stockpiling risks
At the time of writing, the Brexit carnage/turmoil/chaos (choose your preferred descriptor!) continues, with the Parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s deal being postponed.
Emergency plans for a no-deal Brexit appear to be progressing both with the government and industry. However, the approach for preventing delays at ports raises significant concerns for food defence with Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, admitting in a recent edition of The Grocer that “food imports from the EU would be allowed to enter without any checks for an indefinite period” (1). Whether this would be mirrored for UK exports to EU member states is unknown, and this could have a significant impact on businesses where EU exports account for a sizeable percentage of their turnover. The same article reported that local authorities have been urged to set up ‘food resilience’ teams to prepare for social disorder! Whether you chose to class this as scaremongering or a possible reality, it certainly has the potential for a serious impact on all parts of the UK food supply chain.
Some manufacturers and retailers have decided to mitigate some of the risk by stockpiling ingredients and products. Clearly this is only an option for lower risk foods, so leaves a lot of reaming exposure for fresh foods. Stockpiling also comes with risks, not least the significant monetary value sitting in warehouses and concerns around being underinsured, but also risks from running out of warehousing space. With storage space already being under pressure as we approach Christmas, we may see the increased risk of substandard warehousing space being offered which could challenge both the food safety, traceability and security of stock piled goods. We must ensure the noise around Brexit does not lead us to take our eye off the food safety and food defence ball.
BRC Issue 8 – Food Safety & Quality Culture
I’m sure, by now, you will have immersed yourselves in the new requirements and challenges of BRC V8. If you’d like more clarification please join us on a BRC V8 conversion course.
I think one of the most significant changes is the new requirement around food safety and quality culture. It is good to see this finally enter BRC as stated requirement, however being forced to ‘do something’ on culture as opposed to being driven by the many benefits an improved culture can bring, does introduce concerns as to the commitment and longevity of some approaches. There is much focus, too much in my opinion, on issuing questionnaires. Yes, it is important to involve all levels and to get a feel for how the workforce sees the culture of the business, however this is only one aspect. In my experience, what is more vital, and often lacking, is the clarity of the management team in terms of what a ‘good food safety and quality culture’ actually looks like. The skill here is to transform something, which is often intangible and vague, into a clearly defined set of values and behaviours. Ask yourself
”if we had a fantastic food safety and quality culture in place, how would people be behaving?”
Once defined, these can then be used to formulate questions to pose around how staff see the current position against these values and desired ways of working. Without clarity from the the top, and from the outset, we will just be clutching at straws, resulting in a very adhoc and ineffective approach.
The fantastic summer of 2018
Well, that depends on your viewpoint. Whilst most of us probably welcomed sunny weekends in the garden, the hot weather posed challenges and opportunities for many parts of the supply chain. BBQ supplies were in great demand, however the dry conditions had a significant impact on UK root crops with October headlines (2) in the media warning of reduced supplies and potential shortages around Christmas and for the increasingly popular ‘Veganuary.’
Growing demand for vegan and ‘free from’ products
This speed of growth in demand for vegan and ‘free from’ foods must break many existing records for previous trends. Most retailers have significantly increased their vegan and ‘free from’ ranges, with some even dedicating defined shelf space to this category.(3) Tesco now even has a Director of Plant Based Innovations, this once fringe movement has now certainly become mainstream. There were some highly anticipated launches of meat-free burgers, with Iceland reporting that sales of its ‘No Bull burger’ were outstripping sales of its Waygu Beef option.(3)
However, as discussed in our Autumn 2018 newsletter blog, it is dangerous to assume that meeting vegan claims guarantees that the product also meets the necessary standards for allergen ‘free from’ claims. The two claims are separate issues and are not necessarily equivalent. We need to respond quickly to satisfy these trends and don’t want to further the reputation of technical departments always saying ‘no’, but our excitable NPD colleagues also need to understand the risks involved. The recent headlines around allergy issues at Pret a Manger should be a catalyst for us all to refocus on factory and supply chain controls. Let us know if your site needs ‘free from’ training, we’re launching new ‘Free from’ Training in the new year to meet needs for NPD, Technical Teams and Production. (EDIT: We have now launched this course, see here for more details!)
Other notable events of 2018
New Acrylamide legislation
The new EU regulations for the management of acrylamide levels in foods came into force in the UK on the 11th April 2018. Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/2158 covers the establishment of mitigation measures and benchmark levels for the reduction of acrylamide in food. See our other blogs on Acrylamide.
The sugar tax also came into force in April this year, leading to many manufacturers reformulating recipes, whilst this is good from a nutrition point of view we always need to mindful of the food safety impact when altering what may be an intrinsic control factor.
The catalyst of the BBC Blue Planet II series significantly accelerated the demand for a reduction in plastic usage with some of the retailers signing up to ambitious targets such as “Tesco to ban non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2019”(5) and Iceland’s pledge to “remove plastic packaging from our own label range completely by 2023”(6). These challenges will continue as we search for alternative packaging materials that can still protect food safety and security.
Food Crime Unit Budget Increases
Great news that The National Food Crime Unit received a £14m budget increase this year to expand in preparation for Brexit.I would hope that if we do leave the EU we can still have the facility to share intelligence data on food fraud, losing access to this would be a big step backwards.
Well, a busy year with challenges already lining up for 2019! So, once we have digested the last of our mince pies, we will need to hit the ground running in the New Year. I hope you can all enjoy a little Christmas relaxation and festivity, and thank you to all our clients for making our 2018 a fantastic one.
1. The Grocer magazine, 1st December 2018 2. The Telegraph website (link). 3. Plant Based News website (link). 4. Image: picture credit – Instagram / AaronCalder Vegan. 5. The Independent website (link). 6. Iceland website (link)