Rising costs and potential fines associated with allergen legislation Natasha’s Law is forcing retailers to change their approach to stocking fresh food to go.
Natasha’s Law came into force in October 2021 to help protect allergen sufferers when purchasing fresh food that is prepared, prepacked and sold directly to customers from one premises. This impacts convenience stores selling items such as packaged sandwiches, muffins, pastries or salads.
It requires businesses to list the full name of the product and all of its ingredients on the packaging. The packaging must also state in bold if it contains any of the following allergens; celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites.
The legislation was named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a sandwich bought from fast food chain Pret a Manger.
However, rising staff costs associated with managing Natasha’s Law has caused reluctance in some independent retailers to continue stocking affected products. One store owner, who asked not to be named, told Better Retailing: “I have been on top of making sure I’m compliant, but it is quite time-consuming and it increases our operational costs.
“Affected products make up 30% of my food to go category and I have one staff member who spends one hour, six days a week making sure labelling is fit. It costs at least £90 a week to ensure we’re compliant and wages are increasing. I think a lot of retailers will move to loose products as it does add up.”
The most severe penalties for the worst breaches of Natasha’s Law can result in unlimited fines and/or up to six months in prison. Multi-site Nisa retailer Shahid Ali told Better Retailing: “The consequences are huge. We don’t have anything pre-packed and we keep leaflets nearby loose items describing their ingredients.
“If someone has an allergy, we advice them not to buy anything fresh at all. There could be cross contamination from someone using the same pair of tongs on several products. The risks are too big.”
Similarly, one symbol retailer who was caught with non-compliant muffins during a trading standards visit has decided to not stock any fresh food to go in the future. They said: “The trading standards officer was quite lenient and gave us friendly advice. However, there’s too much work involved and we don’t want the hassle of trying to keep up.”
Compliance among independent retailers
Despite the changes, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to UK councils by Better Retailing in October 2022 revealed that independent retailers were among the most compliant businesses to follow UK-wide Natasha’s Law within its first year.
Analysis of the data by Better Retailing revealed that trading standards investigations found 1,367 businesses selling non-compliant Natasha’s Law products between October 2021 and October 2022. Fifty (4%) of these businesses were independent retailers.
Of these shops, unaffiliated stores acounted for 15 breaches, followed by Premier (three stores), Costcutter (three), Day Today (three), USave (three), Keystore (two), Nisa (one), Spar, (one) and Lifestyle Express (one). Eighteen stores could not be identified.
In comparison, 20 supermarkets and one forecourt breached Natasha’s Law during the period. Thirty-six breaches included businesses that were identified as a grocer, confectioner, farm shop, food retailer, food distributor, general store, greengrocer, retail food and small retailer.
Hospitality businesses had the highest number of breaches, with 487 (35%) offending businesses classed as restaurants, cafes and takeaways. Other businesses included food banks, mobile vans, manufacturers and football clubs, while the business type of 415 sites could not be identified.
Eighteen councils did not hold any information, with some attributing this to Natasha’s Law inspections being merged into existing hygiene checks. Thirty-three councils said they recorded no breaches of Natasha’s Law in the period.