Clients often ask us to undertake compliance checks, to advise whether they are meeting the minimum requirements of the law. But for a consumer facing business, mere compliance can be just as damaging as non-compliance.
The death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse as a result of consuming a Pret A Manger baguette containing the allergen sesame, demonstrates that compliance with only the letter of the law can have dangerous consequences, both for consumers and for the reputation of the brand.
Rather than asking what they must comply with, brands should consider their brand values and whether the actions they are taking towards consumers, employees, local communities and the environment are consistent with those values.
UK legislation tries to drive this behaviour through annual reporting obligations, but who reads the report and accounts of a brand before making a purchasing decision?
Compliance is often only questioned when something goes wrong, and by then it's often too late. Pret seems to have learned its lesson from the tragic circumstances of Natasha's death and is bringing in labelling changes. Other brands should use this as a timely reminder to question whether they should be going beyond the letter of the law.
Under current regulations for items made in-store, it is sufficient for general allergen warnings to be posted around the shop, rather than on the packaging, and for specific advice to be given orally by staff.