Nobody expected such rapid growth in internet sales of food and drink when the FIC was first drafted by officials in Brussels, said Stephen Pugh, head of food labelling at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
As a consequence, the provisions in the rules necessary to ensure “distance selling” was compliant with FIC hadn’t been thoroughly thought through, said Pugh, speaking at a seminar on food labelling policy organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London last month.
While the legislation on distance selling was originally designed around catalogue sales of Christmas products in France, it now had to apply more widely to online sales of food and drink, said Pugh.
‘Explosion in online shopping’
“Little did we think that there would be an explosion in online shopping, and actually this would now involve internet sales coming from the major supermarkets,” he added.
“Distance selling is something that we perhaps need to go back and look at again,” suggested Pugh.
The problems of ensuring compliance with the FIR were echoed by Ashley Finney, lead product compliance manager with Morrisons. Finney noted that the supermarket’s specification system hadn’t been fit for purpose and this was made even worse as its internet sales grew.
“So we had approximately 7,000 [own-label] products to convert to compliant labels, which I think we’re still getting over the headache now,” remarked Finney.
In order to comply with FIR, Morrisons has redesigned its computer systems and procedures to accommodate the changes required. “And then we’ve had to worry about our online webstore and how we could make sure that is FIC compliant as well,” he added.
Finney expected greater scrutiny from trading standards officers regarding online sale. “Guidance has not always been too clear on that but I think most of us that are online retailers have taken a particular decision to go down a certain route and [make] mandatory information available.”