Selling Pre-Packaged Food & Drink in the UK

Howes Percival has developed this guide in collaboration with Vdepot, as a resource to help current and prospective food & drink clients understand the legal landscape in which they operate.


Click here to download a PDF version of this guide.

Food & Drink Labelling

Food safety is a key priority for all food manufacturers and distributors. The regulations are detailed, so the purpose of this resource is to give you a brief overview of the general requirements for pre-packaged food.

Beginning with responsibility, if a product is packed by one business and supplied to another, the producing business is responsible for ensuring that the product is fully labelled with the name of the product and a full ingredients list with emphasis added to allergens.

All pre-packaged food needs to be labelled with the following mandatory information:

Name of the food

The name of the food should clearly be stated and not be misleading. If the food has been processed in any way, the process must be included in the title, for example ‘smoked cheese’.

A Best Before/Use By Date

Best before dates are concerned with food quality, so if the food will still be safe to eat, you can use a best before date. Use by dates are concerned with food safety, so if the food could be unsafe after a certain date, include a use by date on the packaging. It must also be clear how foods should be stored, for example if the food would keep fresher for longer in the fridge or if it should be frozen.

Any Necessary Warnings

Food containing certain ingredients (such as sweeteners or sugars, caffeine or liquorice) requires a warning on the label to alert consumers to their presence.

List of Ingredients

If the food or drink contains more than one ingredient (including additives and water), you must list them all in order of weight. You also have to show the percentage of an ingredient if it is highlighted on the labelling or a picture on the package, mentioned in the name of the product or normally connected with the name of the product by the consumer.

Allergen Information

Allergen information will be exceptionally important to a number of your consumers, and the consequences of not highlighting allergens can be fatal. You must highlight the following allergens on the label and list them in the ingredients:

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Molluscs
  • Mustard
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame
  • Soybeans
  • Sulphur dioxide
  • Sulphites (when present at above 10mg per kilogram or per litre)

The emphasis that distinguishes the allergens from other ingredients can be achieved by means of a different font, style or background colour for example.

Net Quantity

For food over 5g or 5ml and packaged herbs and spices, you must display the net quantity in grams, kilograms, millilitres or litres on the label. For solid foods packed in a liquid or ice glaze, you must display the drained net weight. For alcoholic drinks, you must show the alcoholic strength. This information must be close enough to the name of the food for the consumer to see all of the information at the same time. For food sold by number, as long as the consumer can clearly see the number of
items within the packaging (for example six apples), you do not need to display the weight or volume.

Name & Address of Manufacturer

Food products sold in Great Britain must include a UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man address for the food business. If the food business is not in Great Britain, they must include the address of the importer, based in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

Country of Origin of Place of Provenance

You must show the country or place of origin for foods such as meat, fish and shellfish, honey, olive oil, wine and fruit and vegetables. You must also show country of origin if, without it, consumers may be misled. For example, if the packaging would lead consumers to believe it was made in a certain place when it was not.

If the primary ingredient comes from somewhere different from where the product says it was made, the label must reflect this. For example, if the product was made in the UK but the primary ingredients came from outside the UK, the label must say so.

Nutritional Declaration

Unless you are a small business with under 10 employees and a turnover of less than £1.4 million and you sell directly to consumers or local retailers (local meaning within your county, neighbouring county or within 30 miles of your county boundary), you must display mandatory nutritional information. This includes the energy value and amount of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt. There is a specific format for this (see the Food Standards Agency website).
You cannot make nutritional or health claims unless you follow additional regulations. You cannot, regardless of these rules, claim or imply that food can treat, prevent or cure any disease or medical condition.

Food or drink such as bottled water, bread and flour, cocoa and chocolate products, fats and oils, fruit juices and nectars, honey, jams and marmalade, milk products, meat products, soluble coffee and sugars are subject to additional labelling requirements.

The mandatory information must be easy to see, clearly legible and should be on the outside of the packaging – consumers should not need to open the packaging to see it. A minimum font size applies to this mandatory information. You must
use a font with a minimum x-height of 1.2mm, unless the largest surface of packaging is less than 80cm squared, in which case you can use a minimum x-height of 0.9mm.

Failing to comply with these requirements is a criminal offence, with the maximum penalty on conviction an unlimited fine.

Selling Food & Drink Online: Distance Selling Regulations

When you sell food by mail order or via the internet, the food you sell is subject to the full body of UK food law.

Food Safety & the Right to Cancel

When considering the safety aspects of selling food by distance selling, the condition which the food is likely to be in when it reaches the purchaser must be fit for human consumption.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 governs businesses selling goods or services at a distance and under the Act, a business must ensure goods are as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality, that if goods are faulty, the business must give a full refund up to 30 days after the item was purchased, that if goods are found faulty up to six months after purchase and the goods can’t be repaired or replaced, then a consumer can also ask for a full refund in most cases.

The right to cancel falls under the Consumer Contract Regulations and does not apply to some food and drinks:

  • Perishable food products or goods that deteriorate
  • Food and drink services provided for a specific event or on a particular date or within a specified period
  • Day-to-day food and drink delivered house to house

The Consumer Contract Regulations also do not apply to distance selling when the food and drink or consumables are intended for current consumption in the household, and supplied regularly to the consumer’s home, residence or workplace, such as milk deliveries.

Allergens Must be Disclosed Before Point of Purchase

Food and drink sold by distance selling, whether it is pre-packaged for direct sale or not, is subject to a requirement to provide allergen information:

  • Before the purchase of the food is completed (such as via a website); and
  • At the moment the food is delivered (such as by way of allergen stickers).

Allergens & Alcoholic Beverages

Alcoholic drinks which contain more than 1.2% of alcohol by volume are not required to bear a list of ingredients. However, any allergens will still need to be declared in a contains statement. For example, this could be phrased as: “Contains: wheat”.

Alcoholic drinks which contain 1.2% by volume of alcohol or less require an ingredients list, in addition to allergen information.

Download a PDF version of this guide.

About Howes Percival

We are a leading commercial law firm and our clients range from individuals and families to global businesses and government departments. Our dynamic team is experienced in working with clients from a variety of sectors, including leisure & tourism, automotive, agriculture, food & drink, development and education. We pride ourselves on the professional approach we take in everything we do, delivering excellence as standard.

Visit the Howes Percival website.

Food & Drink Fulfilment

Vdepot provides expert B2C and B2B fulfilment for food and drink brands. As your fulfilment partner we can look after the entire process for you; from receiving your goods into our secure warehouse, to carefully packing them for delivery, while managing your inventory in between. Our service can help to keep your customers happy, freeing you up to focus on growing your business.

Learn more about Vdepot’s food and drink fulfilment services.

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