Mike Edmunds takes a look at allergens in the beverage stream

Many establishments are looking to capitalise on the free-from trend and businesses also need to be primed with allergen information relating to not only their food offering but their drinks and alcohol too.

Industry knowledge around food allergens continues to grow, which can only be a positive step towards helping businesses cater for those with allergies or intolerances. However, allergen information relating to drinks and alcohol has gone relatively under the radar. It is vital the sector is aware of gap in awareness since beverage legislation can differ to that of the wider food market.

Hidden allergens
Two years ago, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation came into force, urging businesses to create accurate and up-to-date allergen information about their products. For the beverage industry, although regulations state that alcoholic drinks with more than 1.2 per cent volume of alcohol do not require an ingredients list1, establishments do need to declare the presence Annex Listof any substances or products derived from the Annex II list. In the drinks sector, gluten and sulphites tend to be the most widely cited allergens due to their presence in beers and wines. However, according to guidelines, some wine fining agents derived from egg and milk can mean operators need to consider compliance regulations carefully2, since tracking these ‘hidden allergens’ in the supply chain can be a complex task.

Tapping the potential
The ‘free-from’ phenomenon is fast becoming an established consumer trend3 and an increasing number of breweries and drinks operators are factoring allergen-free products into their offering4. However, in order to appeal to the market, the foodservice industry has to find ways of navigating the arguably complex landscape of allergen compliance, especially within the supply chain.

As well as appealing to the current market, businesses that comply with the latest legislation protect themselves against reputational damage as well as the various penalties and offences outlined under the enforcement measures.

While undoubtedly an absolute ‘worst case scenario’, failure to comply with the requirements of the regulation’s provisions is a criminal offence and may result in a criminal prosecution being brought against the operator. What’s more, those found guilty of an allergens offence will be liable to an unlimited fine to be decided on a case by case basis5.

According to research undertaken on behalf of Trade Interchange, 69 per cent of foodservice businesses feel exposed to allergen legislation and the associated risks6. To meet regulations, a raft of supplier information needs to be collected, organised, continuously updated and communicated across the business as well as to customers. This can be a daunting task for pubs, bars and foodservice businesses, which often have complex supply bases and busy schedules.

Using technology tactically
There are several methods generally used for recording, updating and maintaining this supplier information, ranging from paper-based systems and manual spreadsheets to specialist software. Each varies in efficiency and effectiveness, for example, paper or spreadsheet-based methods can be notoriously difficult and time consuming to manage – as well as being subject to human error.

In response, the industry is increasingly turning to central data monitoring solutions, such as Supplier Information Management software (SIM), which is specifically designed to improve the way risks are managed. Online SIM systems enable suppliers to upload key information that operators require, such as allergen policies, and provide them with all of the necessary compliance data instantly. By using specialist technology, such as Trade Interchange’s ARCUS SIM software, automated email alerts and reminder prompts can be set up. This means suppliers can update information in line with the user’s requirements, and helps to ensure supply chains employ accurate database.

Not only is it vital for information to be up-to-date, it’s also important any supplier database is easy to maintain, so it doesn’t become outdated or neglected. Recent research shows that 60 per cent of foodservice operators surveyed use manual systems to manage supplier information7. Investing in comprehensive digital systems allows businesses to store all supplier information online, and access it quickly and easily from one central place, making managing allergen information a lot simpler.

Time is money and efficiency pays
In addition to maintaining databases, SIM systems can help pubs and bars decide which suppliers to work with. Collecting allergen policies before working with a supplier can give businesses the confidence that they have done the correct due diligence, but can be incredibly time-consuming if done manually. Developments in supplier management software allows users to make better informed decisions on who to stock by having all this information available.

Obtaining allergen policies from key suppliers can also be labour intensive. However, software solutions put the onus on the suppliers to upload the relevant information through completing tailored online questionnaires. Therefore, data relating to allergens in drinks can be gathered in one streamlined process.

The landscape of allergen compliance can be challenging, yet innovations in technology allow foodservice professionals to have visibility of the entire supply chain in a cost and time effective manner. When it comes to allergens, a well maintained and easy to use supplier management system can not only help businesses appeal to the ‘free-from’ market, but can also help to ensure non-compliance fines are avoided and a brand’s reputation is protected.

1, 2 Food.Gov, Food allergen labelling and information requirements, April 2015
3 Mintel, Free-from Foods – UK, January 2016
4 Independent, 10 best gluten-free beers, March 2017
5 Food.Gov, Food allergen labelling and information requirements, April 2015
6, 7 Foodservice Supplier Management Report, Autumn 2016

Mike EdmundsMike Edmunds is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Trade Interchange. Trade Interchange was founded in the UK in 2000 with a principal focus on fully managed online eAuctions. Over the years it has added more modules and now its proprietary cloud-based ARCUS platform supports a range of Supplier Management activities in many prestigious blue chip clients around the world.