Fresh warnings are abound over the impact of the supply chain crisis in the UK, which has so far seen Nando's hit with a chicken shortage and Wetherspoons run low on beer. Now, Coral Rose of Country Range Food Group warns that stringent allergen labelling requirements will be more difficult to meet as a result.

It is thought that the crisis is caused by a shortage of HGV drivers as a result of Brexit and Covid-19 restricting the flow of European workers, a back-log of driver tests and disadvantageous tax and working conditions in the UK. A survey of the Road Haulage Association estimates that we are currently facing a shortfall of around 100,000 drivers.

A shortage of deliveries has led to wholesalers sourcing alternatives for unavailable products, which are in turn supplied to and stocked by businesses already gearing up to provide full ingredient labelling and allergen information on pre-packaged food as required by Natasha's Law, when it comes into effect next month. This places pressure on wholesalers to provide alternative products with the same allergen information, though coordinating and communicating such requirements has been strained by staff shortages.

As the development period for many pre-packaged food products is often many months, a late change in the allergen information will create burdens for businesses who then need to change their labelling appropriately to ensure it is accurate and compliant. Whilst there may be a possibility that a product is instead “made to order” (to which Natasha’s Law should not apply), it is ordinarily safest to err on the side of caution and update the label appropriately to reflect any changes.

Where alternative products are provided, the contract between the wholesaler and business should be considered carefully to determine whether it is the responsibility of the wholesaler to provide accurate allergen information to the business or deliver specified goods. It may then be possible for the business to reject alternative products or accept them and recover their losses or increased costs from the wholesaler for re-labelling or modifying packaging as required. Where the wholesaler provides incorrect allergen information and this leads to liability on the business under Natasha’s Law or otherwise, it may also be possible for the business to bring a claim against the wholesaler.

In any case, it's crunch time for businesses throughout the supply chain to ensure that they meet their obligations and food safety regulations whilst meeting the demands of consumers in these challenging conditions. Only time will tell whether products are on the shelves in time for the highly-competitive and crucial Christmas season.