I had the privilege of being a panel speaker at the Guild of Fine Foods’ Fine Food North Show 2018. I say privilege because it was an amazing display of world class produce coupled with the clear pride and passion of the producers. From Yallo’s Cold-pressed rapeseed oil to Origins fair origin teas I met both innovative and dedicated producers. One of the first thoughts I had was “how best could we contribute to the continued success and development of this sector?”.
On The Panel
Hosted by GFF managing director John Farrand, myself and four other advisors to the food and beverage retail sector had a lively discussion about the state of retail F&B and the likely challenges we see in our areas of focus.
On the legal side we are seeing an increasing demand for online retail contract advice. More and more new retail businesses are moving into the online space, whether through traditional business to online consumer sales or the growing mobile applications market. In this area food business operators have to be aware of their liability for the production, transportation and possible return of their product under consumer transaction regulations. Electronic terms and conditions that govern online display and sales are key legal documents which are essential to this part of the business.
Then there are the impending GDPR requirements of which a lot of small businesses are aware but have delayed engagement. The fact is addressing the GDPR will be crucial to all businesses that require consumer information but more particularly for online businesses that rely on customer mailing lists to market. Under the GDPR, businesses will be required to review their systems on the acquisition, handling, storage and further use of data. Electronic terms and conditions will have to make some reference to data protection compliance, but the regulation will go further and require you to have auditable policies which are evidence of your compliance. GDPR will come into force from 25 May 2018 so businesses must ensure they are compliant before then and LawBite has a range of GDPR Products and Services to help you on your way.
As you would also expect it did not take long for the B-word to enter the conversation. With Brexit only 12 ½ months away from its 29 March 2019 deadline small businesses have to start looking at what likely changes it will bring to the food and beverage sector. Although the Great Repeal Bill indicates that there will be a wholesale importation of already existing laws into UK law (or put another way all the laws that apply now are likely to keep applying unless amended), possible changes are likely around product liability, labelling requirements and VAT. Brexit is likely to have a financial impact on many businesses and in anticipation of a squeeze in the pocket businesses might shift focus away from necessary legal protections. Have you assessed whether your contracts are Brexit-proofed? Do you need clauses which anticipate regulatory or price changes or shocks? It is difficult to know what will happen for certain but you can mitigate against risks by ensuring your contracts look to protect you. LawBite’s expert commercial contract lawyers can help you here.
Walk & Talk
Walking through the exhibition and sampling products also gave me an opportunity to have one to one conversations with producers and hear about their challenges and concerns. Brand protection is an area of concern. The scope of social media networks means that whilst producers may be local, their reputations and brands can be international. A viral campaign can lead to great success whilst misleading comparisons by competitors can have an impact on your sales and brand integrity. There were some producers who were new to the market but with exciting opportunities which meant they would have to scale up production and with growth comes the management of business relationships through manufacturing and supplier agreements.
Amongst the many experiences I took away from the event, aside from my first vegan pie, was a sense of the dynamism of this market and the energy that comes from pursuing your dreams. Having legal support is not intended to stifle development, it is there to enable you to handle the fundamentals so you can get on with the real game of growing your businesses.
To consult with Gaile Walters, Food and Beverage Lawbrief please submit an enquiry for a free 15-minute consultation or call our friendly team today on 020 7148 1066.
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