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RPC Bites #19

20 October 2020. Published by Ciara Cullen, Partner and Ben Mark, Partner

Welcome to RPC Bites. Our aim in the next 2 minutes is to provide you with a flavour of some key legal, regulatory and commercial developments in the Food & Drink sector over the last fortnight… with the occasional bit of industry gossip thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!!

Access the full edition of RPC Bites here 

FSA updates guidance on 'Natasha's Law' 

In Issue 11 of RPC Bites, we reported that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had issued technical guidance to assist businesses to prepare for the coming into force of The Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019 (a.k.a. 'Natasha's Law'), on 1 October 2021. 

With one year to go, the FSA published further guidance last week, which can be viewed here

Changes to the law were triggered by the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette that did not require allergen labelling under the current regime. At present, allergen information for 'prepacked for direct sale' foodstuffs (PPFDS) can be provided by any means (including verbally) but once Natasha's Law comes into force, a full ingredient list will need to be included on all product labels. The latest guidance published by the FSA allows businesses to determine how they will be affected by the forthcoming changes so that they can amend their processes and train staff accordingly. Read more 

The gourmet burger survives!

Last week, it was announced that the Boparan Restaurant Group has acquired a stake in Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), saving the popular restaurant chain from administration in the wake of hostile trading conditions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Boparan will add GBK to its existing portfolio of casual dining chains, which already includes Giraffe and Ed's Easy Diner. The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with the recently introduced 10pm curfew and prohibition on indoor gatherings of multiple households in certain areas of the UK (including London) presenting further challenges. Whilst some will question the wisdom of investing in GBK in the current climate, Boparan's MD has reiterated the Group's belief that "quality hospitality businesses will recover in the long term as people return to eating out."

This is not the first time that Boparan has come to the rescue of an ailing restaurant chain. Earlier this year, the group acquired 31 sites operated by high-street favourite, Carluccio's. Read more

Clarification on food and drink labelling post-Brexit

On 14 October 2020, the UK Government issued much needed guidance on the food and drink labelling requirements that will apply from 1 January 2021, when the UK ceases to be a member of the EU. The note explains how food and drink producers, manufacturers, retailers and suppliers must change their labels after exit day and provides clarity regarding the provision of Food Business Operator (FBO) addresses. 

The guidance confirms that labelling on pre-packaged food and caseins intended for export must include an FBO located in either the EU or Northern Ireland (NI), or the address of the EU or NI importer. In relation to goods which are sold in Great Britain (GB), while businesses can continue to use an EU, GB or NI address for the FBO until 30 September 2022, from 1 October 2022, pre-packaged food or caseins sold in GB must include a UK address. If the FBO is not in the UK, businesses should include the address of their importer. Whilst this guidance is subject to agreement with devolved administrations and Parliamentary process, it indicates that goods sold in NI will continue to follow EU rules for labelling. Read more

Herbs to be freshly grown in a Whole Foods store near you

A partnership between Whole Foods Market and urban farming company, Infarm will see modular vertical farming units installed in Whole Foods' High Street Kensington and Fulham stores. The units will allow customers to purchase herbs and 'trendy' greens such as kale and mizuna, which are freshly grown in store with no added pesticides. 

A Tottenham-based Infarm growing centre is also set to supply freshly grown produce to a host of London Whole Foods stores. Vertical farming means that the Infarm units significantly reduce the use of traditional resources in the food supply chain by growing produce closer to where it is consumed. Infarm's cloud-based technology gathers data from the growth cycle of plants which allows the platform to improve growing environments in order to enhance yields. Whole Foods isn't the only food retailer utilising Infarm's innovative technology; the company has also secured deals with Selfridges and Marks & Spencer. Read more 

Disappointment for farmers after MPs reject amendments to the Agriculture Bill

MPs have rejected the House of Lords' latest amendments to the Agriculture Bill. Peers in the Lords sought to protect the UK farming industry post-Brexit by ensuring high standards of animal welfare and food safety rules were enshrined in UK law. Several amendments were proposed by the Lords, including a requirement for food import trade deals to comply with relevant domestic standards preventing, for example, the importation of chlorinated chicken or hormone injected beef. Limits on pesticide use and enhanced environmental protections were also mooted. 

Despite widespread support from the National Farmers Union and a number of celebrity chefs, including Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi, the majority of MPs voted to reject the amendments. Opponents and much of the UK farming industry are urging the Government to rethink its decision and 'Back British farmers' as critics warn the move may result in lower standards for other UK food trade deals. Read more 

Cheers to the Carlsberg and Marston's merger 

In Issues 9 and 16 of RPC Bites we reported on the proposed merger between Marston's PLC and Carlsberg UK, which would see the creation of the new 'Carlsberg Marston's Brewing Company'. 

Following a referral from the European Commission due to competition concerns, an investigation was launched by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). However, on 9 October 2020, the CMA cleared the deal and the £780M transaction can now go ahead. Read more