Opinion: What can wholesalers learn from the Pret a Manger allergen case?

Coral Rose, Country Range
Coral Rose, Country Range

High-street food-to-go chain Pret a Manger has agreed to publish full ingredient labelling on all its freshly made products following the tragic case of a 15-year-old who died after having an allergic reaction to one of its baguettes.

The baguette did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper, although there was no requirement for Pret to do this because of reduced labelling requirements for food produced on-site.

At the inquest into the death in September, the coroner expressed concerns about these regulations.

This development is timely, and of major importance, because one of the biggest issues in foodservice right now is allergens and how the information is communicated. Recent high-profile cases, including the one mentioned, just go to show how fundamentally critical such data is.

Frontline

At present, foodservice wholesalers – including those who are members of the Country Range Group – are on the frontline and are being asked to take responsibility for providing accurate allergen information. They have to spend considerable resources to collect this data.

The responsibility for allergen data has to rest with food manufacturers and suppliers, though. And they should be required to sign up to a code of practice to populate and maintain allergen data on an industry-recognised database, ensuring all changes to product recipes are immediately reflected on said database.

Erudus – a collaborative data service for the food industry – is trying hard to create such a database, but without the full support of the complete wholesale community there is not enough pressure on suppliers to get involved or maintain up-to-date information.

It is something that could be driven by a body such as the Federation of Wholesale Distributors in association with, say, the Food Standards Agency, with all wholesalers involved supporting the agreed industry solution. This needs to happen very quickly, before more tragic incidents are reported.

In the absence of an industry-recognised or industry-supported product database, many delivered wholesalers particularly foodservice delivered wholesalers have invested heavily in generating and now maintaining their nutritional and allergen data.

As and when a live trading customer requires our data, we have no issue in providing it to them for their internal use only. This is as an added-value service to a valued and respected customer.

However, why should an unrelated commercial organisation profit from an activity that they could not perform without us providing them with our data? Procurement-type businesses, along with nutritional and menu-planning-type businesses, often charge in excess of 5%, paid either by the supplying wholesaler or the customer.

Very frequently, the caterer is unaware that this service provider is charging the wholesaler, let alone unaware that the service provider is attempting to charge a greater gross margin percentage than the wholesaler’s net profit percentage.

But if there was an industry database, then a charge for access could be applied to procurement and menu-planning-type commercial organisations, as opposed to them relying on a wholesaler freely providing this information. The net effect of this would be to erode the procurement agencies’ margins, thereby creating a more competitive price for caterers and saving them money.

Time is of the essence, and I hope that action can be taken sooner rather than later.

Coral Rose is the managing director of the Country Range Group

Read similar: The “big 14” allergens list

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Coral Rose
Coral Rose is the managing director of Country Range Group, which works on behalf of 16 independent wholesale food suppliers across 25 depots in the UK and Channel Islands.

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