Online food information could fail new FIR rules

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Is the ingredients information on your website FIR compliant?
Is the ingredients information on your website FIR compliant?

Related tags Retailing Online shopping

Food and drink firms could lose millions of pounds in online grocery sales in the run up to Christmas, if their products do not comply with Food Information for Consumers (FIR) regulations for distance selling.

Many large brands and retailers had focused too much on ensuring physical product labels were FIR-compliant, but neglected to make the same information available for online use, an industry expert has warned.

“Retailers will hold their suppliers accountable for missing FIR information,”​ said Martin Fincham, chief executive of Lansa, which supplies software to companies working with databases.

Christmas impact

“They will remove non-compliant products from their online stores, which will inevitably have a bigger impact in the run up to Christmas.”

The first round of FIR, which comes into force on December 13, stipulates that ingredient labels must be printed in a minimum font size and have their allergens highlighted within the main body of the text. The same information must be available for customers making purchases online.

But, manufacturers also had to have the right software in place to allow them to send the correct data to retailers in the correct format, said Fincham. “Many businesses are still using Excel spreadsheets for their data, but information in this format is impossible for retailers to use on their websites.”

Although the issue would affect manufacturers most, it could also be a big setback to online retailing, as it would be illegal to sell items without compliant food information, he added.

Supermarkets had worked hard to build their online presence, but their slowness to make FIR-compliant data available online would undoubtedly set their progress back, Fincham claimed.

Systems were inadequate

Even if retailers had the information available, the majority of them wouldn’t be able to use it as their systems were inadequate a situation Fincham said banks were familiar with, as some also had outdated IT systems.

“This is very much ‘Y2K’​ [fears preceding the year 2000 about the danger of a ‘millennium bug’ disrupting commerce] for the food industry, as a lot of their IT systems are legacy systems, set up to last a long time, but aren’t capable of dealing with what is demanded of them now,”​ explained Fincham.

Robert Besford, FIR lead for GS1 UK, the global supply chain standards organisation, also had concerns about the compliance of online food information.

“If you look online, you might see that a single website​ [selling food and drink] doesn’t have the necessary information against every single product,” ​he said.

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