Forenote: The deadline for compliance with FIR 2016 may now have passed but this is a great example of applied Supplier Engagement. Read on to understand how Supplier Engagement techniques and practices help to ensure suppliers become compliant with legislation.
(Minus the stress of ‘FIR 2014’)
Phased by FIR 2014?
It’s almost two years since the first phase of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIC/FIR) came into force in December 2014. Dictating greater label consistency and clarity and the emphasis of allergens present within consumables, FIR is considered by many to be the biggest overhaul in food and beverage regulation in a generation.
How did it go for you?
Was it a last minute dash to gain confirmation of compliance from your suppliers? Were you still scrambling to collect product information and imagery to update your online grocery site come the morning after?
Don’t worry, you weren’t alone.
However, as we approach the implementation of changes to nutritional information as part of the second half of the regulation, you are presented with an opportunity to act now and avoid the same stress come this December.
Heck, you may even earn a pat on the back in the process.
Your FIR retail responsibility in 2016
As I mentioned above, this phase of FIR mandates that most food products require nutritional information on their labels. Importantly – and unlike the first phase – this excludes alcoholic beverages.
Your responsibility as a retailer is to be able to demonstrate due-diligence.
Here at S4RB, we advocate using Supplier Engagement as the most effective way to undertake the following process:
- Identify and assign an FIR contact at each of your suppliers
- Understand if suppliers need to comply and if so, do they currently comply
- Support suppliers through the transition if they don’t currently comply
Have they already been there, done that and got the product labels?
When considering compliance, your product can initially be grouped into two camps:
A. Those products that labelled nutritional information before December 2014 and therefore should already comply with FIR nutritional labelling regulation
B. Those products that do not label nutritional information
Within this article, I’m going to focus what you need to consider for those suppliers within group B.
FIR 2016 exclusion reasons
Of those suppliers of products in group B who don’t currently label nutritional information, some will need to update their packaging, some will not. And the first steps towards being able to demonstrate due-diligence to the authorities will be finding this out.
There are a number of reasons that products may not need to include Nutritional Information. Most of these are covered under Annex V of the regulation. However - for brevity - here are the most common types of products whose labels will not need to include nutritional information:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tea or coffee products
- Products comprising of a single ingredient
- Herbs, spices, seasonings, salts, oils and vinegars
- Jams and jellies
- Handmade products sold directly to you in small quantities
As with all regulation, there are differing degrees of interpretation for the various exemption reasons listed above – particularly my favourite, ‘handmade’.
However, do not be drawn into ruling on exemption yourself. The best way to mitigate the risk of getting this bit wrong is pushing it back to those who will be tasked to enforcing it – trading standards officers (TSOs) and environmental health officers (EHOs).
When working with our clients, we recommend they ask any supplier claiming exemption to obtain written confirmation from their TSO or EHO that their products can be correctly categorised as such.
Suppliers who opt-in by choice
It’s important to recognise that – despite their products being exempt – some suppliers may choose to use this opportunity to provide customers with greater transparency and display nutritional information anyway. If they chose to follow this route, their nutritional information must comply with the standards laid out in the FIR regulation. Nutritional information – even by choice – must comply.
Supplier Engagement versus supplier instruction
For those suppliers of products with labels that do not comply, there are a couple of immediate options. The traditional approach would be to instruct your suppliers to update their artwork and confirm in writing that their labels now comply. And this may very well be the approach you choose to take.
However, the fact that your supplier – a food production company – has yet to update their labels to comply with the biggest change in regulation in a generation suggests to me that they’re lacking either the understanding or motivation to do it.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: “Well they need to sort it themselves, hire someone who can sort it for them or not expect to supply a national retail chain”. And your underlining sentiment is correct. But this approach to your suppliers may lead you to the unhelpful and unattractive conclusion of having to delist around 20% of your products that do not comply.
Just to be clear, I absolutely agree that a supplier needs to employ a competent technical manager who is responsible for the supply of compliant and safe products to you. But I can also appreciate that some of those same technical managers may not frequently update product labels to comply with regulations like FIR.
My case for Supplier Engagement
Providing additional support and education to your suppliers to grow their understanding and motivation around FIR can provide you with a number of benefits:
- You proactively address the reality that some of your suppliers will need support allowing you to deliver that support on your timescales and well ahead of the FIR deadline. Ultimately, this will reduce the time your team spend achieving compliance.
- Your suppliers recognise the effort you have made in your relationship with them and move towards considering you their customer of choice. Being their customer of choice will increase the likelihood they’ll share innovations with you (rather than your competitors) and that they’ll place their ‘A team’ on your account.
- Your case for how you’ve demonstrated due diligence is further strengthened.
Understanding the FIR compliance journey
A fundamental part of effectively supporting suppliers through this transition is providing them with relevant and valuable information. To do this, it’s essential that you understand what stage your suppliers are at on their journey to update their product labels. For FIR 2016, we use the following stages:
- Obtaining nutritional information
- Updating product artwork
- Checking artwork with third-party or technical manager
- Supplying new product to store
Capturing this information allows you to target the information you share with suppliers to the relevant contacts and inform the conversations your product managers and buyers have with those suppliers. But above all, you have complete visibility of how your product portfolio is progressing towards compliance.
I’ve found video to be particularly well received when sharing information with suppliers on how to efficiently progress through each stage. Here’s another article you may find helpful if you’d like to try video.
I want to thank you for taking the time for reading this article. I really do hope you found it useful.
If planning how you are going to ensure FIR compliance is something you keep putting off, we can help you to better understand the issue just like we have for others. Our work for phase 1 on behalf of Waitrose demonstrates how we could help.