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New allergen regulations: communication is key to success

New allergen regulations: communication is key to success

13 December 2014 has arrived and everything should now be in place to ensure that all food service providers comply with the new EU Allergen Regulations.

In case anybody has somehow missed it, the new legislation requires all food manufacturers, mass caterers, and catering outlets to meet their legal obligation and duty of care to the public by accurately recording and communicating to the public the 14 most common foods that cause allergic reactions.

With the most significant impact of, and major responsibility for, implementing the new regulations falling on the shoulders of the food service industry, communication has been identified – by food industry professional bodies – as a key contributor to success.

Heralding the new legislation at an internal launch event, Mark Nelson, Director of Service Development for OCS’s catering service in the UK commented: “The financial impact and reputational loss, should businesses be seen to be failing in their duty to implement the new regulation, threatens to be huge with potential fines of £5k for an incident of non-compliance. The food service industry is heavily reliant on staff passing on 100% accurate information about allergens in non-packaged foods, which increases the likelihood of human error. The quality and reliability of up-to-date information, and training are therefore essential ingredients in ensuring staff can effectively share knowledge with customers.”

Jackie Grech, Legal and Policy Director of The Restaurant Association said: “The new food allergen regulation should give all diners across the EU access to reliable information on ingredients served out of home, for example hotels and restaurants, food stalls and festivals. 

Food allergies can cause very serious health problems, making it very difficult for a limited few to enjoy a ‘night on the town’. In this industry success is measured one customer at a time. Make no mistake, the Food Allergens Regulation will be challenging and cumbersome to implement, especially for small businesses and it is fraught with practical difficulties. But, if it serves the customer, then it serves the industry too."

The BHA has recognised that these new regulations have put a significant burden on hospitality suppliers, the front line service providers and restaurants of all sizes. It is estimated that the cost of implementing these new allergen regulations could be in the region of £200 million per year.

Demand for free-from foods set to grow, says Horizons

Having clearly labelled free-from dishes on the menu will become an increasingly vital part of a restaurant’s offer as a growing proportion of the population become concerned with food ingredients, allergens and the desire to eat a more health-conscious diet.

We have been monitoring consumer demand for free-from dishes for some time now,” said Horizons’ director of marketing Emma Read. “Demand has risen considerably this year and a number of the big chain operators are already embracing the free-from concept by offering dedicated menus of gluten-free dishes.

Operators are not only competing with each other on quality, price and ambience, but increasingly on the dishes they have on their menus. A willingness to include free-from dishes will be important to attract a certain segment of the population,” she added.

A recent consumer survey [June 2014] undertaken by Horizons showed that one in 10 consumers sought vegetarian options on menus while a similar number looked for calorie information, 9% wanted low- or reduced-fat dishes and 4% were looking for gluten-free dishes. With women more engaged on food issues than men, 37% of women mentioned at least one healthy or lifestyle factor that was important to them when they chose where to eat out.

Operators are becoming increasingly aware of this growing audience. In a Horizons/JRA survey of foodservice operators [October 2014] 78% acknowledged that gluten-free dishes were gaining in importance, with 60% saying that dairy-free dishes had also become important to their customers.

Horizons’ Menurama survey, which tracks changes across over 120 restaurant and quick service brands, showed that the increase in gluten-free dishes on menus has increased 135% since last year, and that 23% of brands now offer a gluten-free option or, in some cases, a gluten-free menu including ASK, Carluccio’s, Frankie & Benny’s and PizzaExpress – a 21% rise in the number offering such dishes in 2010.

We are going to continue to see a big change over the next 12 months as foodservice operators realise that a growing number of consumers are concerned with free-from dishes. Operators need to go further than the legislation dictates and make this an important part of their marketing mix,” added Read.

The Restaurant Association has launched a guidance toolkit designed to help food businesses manage the new regulations, which can be found at www.bha.org.uk

Comprehensive guidelines for implementing the new allergen regulations can be found on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

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