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RPC Bites #20

06 November 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 

Plant based 'burgers' and 'sausages' will not meat their maker

On 23 October, the European Parliament voted on a proposed amendment to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which would have reserved meat-related terms such as 'steak', 'sausage', 'escalope' and 'burger' for meat products only. The amendment, first brought forward by the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, was supported by the meat lobby, who argued that the use of such terms, for non-meat products, risked consumer confusion about the content of meat alternatives.  Ultimately, MEPs did not agree, with 284 voting in favour of the restrictions but 379 voting against. 

The outcome however, is in stark contrast with the European Parliament's vote, on the same day, to ban the promotion of non-dairy products through the use of comparative terms such as 'milk-like' or 'cheese alternative'. The use of dairy terms per se, in connection with non-dairy products (i.e. 'almond milk'), is already banned in the EU, following a 2017 CJEU decision, in which the Court found that a risk of confusion did exist. The conflicting decisions will have left some scratching their heads but this is reportedly due to the European Commission’s ambition to tackle climate change. Part of the Commission's campaign entails encouraging the public to eat less meat and it was thought that forcing non-meat alternatives to rebrand as 'vegan discs' or 'plant-based tubes' could lead to a lower uptake of these products.

The European Parliament's vote in favour of further restrictions for dairy comparators remains subject to approval by the Council, before it becomes law. If the amendment is incorporated into the CAP, this will impact the labelling rules that apply to UK producers of vegan milk, butter and yoghurt alternatives exporting to the EU.  Whilst these rules could be revoked after Brexit, manufacturers who export to the EU market will need to comply regardless and will therefore need to decide whether using different packaging in the two territories makes commercial sense. Read more including RPC's full summary of the decision.

Lockdown II  

At 00.01 hours on Thursday 5 November, restaurants, bars and cafes were again required to close, in accordance with emergency COVID-19 legislation. For the second time this year, the hospitality industry and the wholesalers that supply it find themselves bracing for the impact of 'lockdown'.

As in March, certain financial assistance will be provided by the Government and as with the previous lockdown, hospitality businesses will be permitted to offer takeaway, click and collect or drive-thru services, subject to this being commercially viable for them. Businesses will also again be able to 'furlough' employees, with the Government paying 80% of their wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. 

As covered in Issue 16 of RPC Bites, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a "Here to Help" campaign, with the accompanying guide containing case studies and practical guidance for businesses on how to adapt their operations so that they can continue to trade as safely as possible during the pandemic.

Even with the re-introduction of furlough and the exemptions for off premises consumption, many in the hospitality industry are calling for additional and more targeted support from the Government. The sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic to date and with Brexit and the challenges that it presents just around the corner, many feel that more needs to be done to ease the burden. Read more 

Protecting regional authenticity in a new era 

On 1 January 2021, the Brexit transition period will end and the UK will leave the EU. This will mean various changes for food and drink businesses, including a new suite of rules, which will replace the existing framework on Geographical Indications (GI). A GI is a name or sign that is used on goods and which corresponds to a specific location (for example, 'cheddar' for cheese). The GI acts as an indication of a product's source and certifies that traditional production methods have been followed. GIs also protect qualifying goods from imitation produce.

 An EU GI scheme is already in place but following Brexit, it will cease to protect UK produce. A UK scheme has therefore been devised, under which three different logos will grant GI status: 

  • Protected designation of origin (PDO); 
  • Protected geographical indication (PGI); and
  • Traditional speciality guaranteed (TSG). 

Giving UK produce its own GI scheme will ensure that from 1 January 2021, the quality and origin of products like Welsh lamb, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Yorkshire Wensleydale will continue to have protected status. 

The recognition and enforceability of the new GI scheme overseas is in many cases, not yet confirmed, although it is expected to feature in future trade deals. Indeed, recognition of the UK's GI framework formed part of the recently agreed trade deal with Japan, which we reported on in Issue 17 of RPC Bites. Read more

Guinness becomes the latest brand to venture into the alcohol free market 

19% of the UK population is reportedly teetotal and 59% of those who consume alcohol say that they have tried a low or no alcohol product. As covered in previous issues of RPC Bites, consumer interest in 'nolo' products is booming and as such, they are seen as a target growth area for many alcohol brands.

As part of its latest suite of 'nolo' products, Diageo recently announced its plans to create an alcohol-free version of the distinctive stout, Guinness, dubbed 'Guinness 0.0'. The launch follows the success of Diageo's non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip, which was launched in 2018, as well as the alcohol-free products recently launched by beer giants Heineken and Carlsberg. Read more

Government considers legislation on food waste reporting

In 2019, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) called for businesses to sign up to a voluntary pledge to reduce their food waste by 50%, by 2030 (against a 2015 baseline). A number of household names including Nestle, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose signed up.  

However, critics have since suggested that much more is needed, if the goal is to be achieved. Recent reports suggest that Defra is currently in talks with the food and drink industry about introducing mandatory reporting requirements. There are few concrete details regarding what this will entail at present but we will provide updates in subsequent issues of RPC Bites. Read more 

Food and drink industry offers a helping hand to those in need

MPs recently voted against extending the free school meals voucher scheme to cover the Autumn half term and Christmas school holidays. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 and Brexit, many businesses in the food and drink industry have themselves offered to step in and provide support to families in need. 

Morrisons has agreed to distribute 14,940 healthy lunchboxes per day to local food banks and will also encourage shoppers to donate food in stores during holiday periods. Asda meanwhile will donate almost £100,000 to its 'Community Champions' across 387 stores who will ensure that the funds are directed to support groups that provide families with food during the holidays. A host of other brands including McDonalds, Aldi, Waitrose and Iceland have also extended their support to Marcus Rashford's campaign, with Hovis recently partnering with the footballer to raise awareness of child food poverty. Read more