The rise of home food businesses

This is the first blog I have had chance to write since the UK was placed into Covid-19 lockdown (100 days ago today!) so I would like to start by saying that I hope you and your families are well whether you are working as normal or have found that work is now busier/quieter than usual or you have had to adapt to working whilst simultaneously home schooling the kids.

One observation that became apparent when we entered the strange world of lockdown was a return of community spirit.  It was admirable to see people helping neighbours with grocery shopping and even putting their own home economic skills into good use making food accessible and available to those who were self-isolating or shielding.  It was also understandable why those on furlough or who have lost most of their income, would seek alternative ways to make money by using their cooking/baking skills whilst staying at home. 

However, as all existing food business owners I’m sure will agree, starting-up a food production business is no easy task and brings with it huge responsibilities.  It’s not just as simple as make food and sell it – there are a raft of legal obligations and standards in place to ensure products are safe to consume, are made following strict hygiene regulations and that product information is presented to a standard that does not put people’s health at risk. 

First and foremost, if you wish to start preparing, cooking, storing, handling, distributing, supplying or selling food – you must be registered as a food business operator with your local authority. This is free to do, and the registration cannot be refused.

It is an offence to operate a food business without being registered – and this includes voluntary, charitable, people operating at home and via the internet as well as those on the high street.  It doesn’t exclude people who are operating from home even if the food is supplied for free.  If you are simply baking a couple of times a year for the school fete then this wouldn’t require registration but producing a tray bake once a month for a café for example, would.

Once registered, you may be inspected and given a food hygiene rating, so it’s important to ensure you have all the right procedures and record keeping in place from the start.  If you are new to the food industry it is most likely (and highly advisable) that you will require appropriate training/mentoring/experts to help you with the following start-up checklist:

  • Does the design & construction of your food preparation area meet legal requirements?
  • Have you invested in the right equipment?
  • Are you aware of the main food law requirements?
  • Do you keep written records of all the food ingredients you are buying or being supplied with?
  • Have you put food safety management procedures in place and are the records kept up to date?
  • Do you understand the principles of good food hygiene?
  • Have you considered health & safety arrangements?
  • Have you registered as self-employed?
  • Are you keeping records of all your business income and expenses?
  • Do you describe/label food and drink accurately and in compliance with legislation?
  • Are you aware of all the allergens in your products, including those present in your home for domestic use and are they communicated properly?
  • Is the packaging you are using suitable for food contact?
  • Do you have public liability and product liability insurances?
  • Do you need to apply for a licence to sell alcohol or hot food between 11pm and 5am?

The Food Standards Agency has developed this useful ‘Safer food better business’ pack specifically for small catering businesses.

I also asked some fellow North West food & drink businesses who have been there and done all the above to share their top tips for start-ups:

Do your research and then check, check and check again. Then get someone qualified to check it too! Don’t just copy existing similar products on the shelf as its 99% certain NOT to be suitable to copy especially where weights and measures and the Estimate symbol are concerned.” The Nowt Poncy Food Company Ltd, @nowtponcy


My tip is the Safer Foods Better Business website. It’s got all the documents and paperwork you need, and plenty of guidance. Make sure you register with the local authority, and use them for advice and guidance as well as inspection, they are there to help as well.” The Sunflower Kitchen, @TheSunflowerKi1


Ensure your labels are up to date with the necessary information and have the correct allergen advice.”  Farm Yard Ales, @farmyardales


Whilst this article aims to point out the main things for you to consider when starting a food business, the good news is that there is absolutely no reason why properly-registered people should not sell food they have prepared at home – it can be done safely!

With over two decades of food industry experience, Anne founded the award-winning AB FOOD NUTRITION to work closely with businesses of all sizes ensuring they can fully inform consumers about the ingredients, allergens and nutrition information legally, whilst also enabling them to make healthier dietary choices.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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Becoming an #SBS winner and #SBS Event 2020

On the 2nd December 2019, I became one of Theo Paphitis’ #SBS winners!  SBS means “Small Business Sunday” which was an initiative created by Theo in 2010.  Each Sunday evening, he invites small businesses to describe their businesses in one tweet using the #SBS hashtag.  Every Monday at 8pm, Theo then announces the lucky six who are then re-tweeted providing them with a massive boost in twitter followers, online visibility and for many, increased sales too!

This month, I attended the annual #SBS winners’ event at Birmingham International Convention Centre, where I was able to meet Theo in person and proudly collect my certificate confirming my win.

Anne from AB Food Nutrition collecting SBS Winners certificate from Theo Paphitis

Becoming a winner means I am part of the #SBS club and there are now 3000 of us from across all industries!  To put this into context, there have been 400,000 applications since the launch in 2010 meaning less than 1% of entries have successfully become winners – so I am absolutely delighted to be one of those!  Anyone with their own small business or working as a sole trader like me will appreciate how tough it can be at times and being able to turn to a group (more like a family really), for advice and information is so invaluable.  

Theo's tweet confirming AB Food Nutrition had become one of the six weekly winners

My first attendance at an #SBS event did not disappoint either.  This year was that little bit more special, with it being a celebration of 10 years since Theo first thought to launch the initiative from his kitchen table, but it was a truly inspiring day too.  We heard from excellent and engaging speakers giving us the low down on how to use Google and a whole host of free tools to help promote our businesses better online, how to improve mental well-being in the workplace as well as opportunities to visit breakout presentations from fellow #SBS winners sharing their expertise.  In the afternoon, Theo led an excellent fireside chat interview with fellow TV dragon Sara Davies.

All of this was free to attend too – including lunch!  I made sure I attended armed with my business cards and a bunch of my promotional pens which I left in the ‘food & drink’ networking area of the conference centre.  I am now connected to many more food and drink businesses thanks to this event.

I’m lucky I get to work with some fabulous small businesses and start-ups and so I highly recommend to all of you, that you enter #SBS every week and try to become a winner.  As a winner you will get to create a profile on the Small Business Sunday website and attend the annual #SBS networking event.

For more information on how to enter and increase your chances of winning take a look at https://www.theopaphitissbs.com. Good luck!

With over two decades of food industry experience, Anne founded AB FOOD NUTRITION to help brands ensure they are able to fully inform consumers about the ingredients, allergens and nutrition information legally, whilst also enabling them to make healthier dietary choices.  Anne is a professional, qualified and experienced food nutritionist. Contact us for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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Why you should choose your fats and oils wisely!

You may be fully aware that different cooking oils have different properties and flavours, for example, those with a higher smoke point like sunflower, rapeseed and olive oil are better for roasting and frying, whereas virgin/cold-pressed oils are better kept for use in salad dressings and for drizzling.

But then, there is the media hype – coconut oil being endorsed by celebrities as the latest ‘superfood’ when in reality it contains more saturated fat than butter or lard! There is in fact very limited evidence for the beneficial health effects of coconut oil which is really driven by marketing and not science!  A small amount of fat in the diet is essential of course, to help us absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, but many of us are consuming too much saturated fat.  Earlier this year the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition published their report on the role of saturated fats and health concluding that the current dietary advice did not need to change – in that saturated fats should not exceed around 10% of total food energy.  Swapping saturated fats with unsaturated fats has been found to lower levels of blood cholesterol which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke and although we all need to take action, food manufacturers and caterers have a particular responsibility in helping people to do this.

So, what can you, as a food producer do when it comes to choosing your cooking oil?

Swapping to an oil higher in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat will not only help to reduce the overall saturated fat content of your products, but could also save you money as well!

However, fatty acids are sensitive to heat, light and oxygen so treat them with care during storage.  Cooking can also change the chemical structure which not only can produce ‘off flavours’ but leads to the destruction of vitamins and loss of nutritional value. 

And finally, remember – all oils are calorie-dense and should be used sparingly, so it’s also a good idea to look for ways to reduce or replace the amount of fats and oils you use in producing your foods.

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling or menu boards and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to assess the impact recipe changes will have on nutritional content as well as advising on ways to achieve a desired nutritional profile such as reducing saturated fat in addition to advising on which nutrition or health claims you can use in product marketing.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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National Food Strategy: a review of the UK food system

Food does more than influence our health and wellbeing – it characterises who we are, shapes our landscape and provides jobs.  I’m proud to say that I am part of the UK’s food industry, and if you are reading this blog, chances are, you are one of my fellow one in eight who earn a living from it too!

It may come as no surprise though to hear that intensive farming practises have taken their toll on the environment, whilst food related diseases are affecting the lives of millions and costing our NHS billions.  Food sustainability is increasingly becoming a concern too and so, it is fantastic news to hear that government has announced the first major review in nearly 75 years, of Britain’s food system.

The independent review aims to investigate the entire food system, from field to fork, and consider what changes are needed to ensure that it:

  • Delivers safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of where people live or how much they earn;
  • Is robust in the face of future shocks
  • Restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation;
  • Is built upon a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector;
  • Is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers.
  • Does all of this in an efficient and cost-effective way.

For the review to be shaped by the widest possible national engagement, it will involve chefs, farmers, retailers, policy makers and small businesses in addition to focus groups consisting of people with diet related diseases, families on low incomes as well as a citizens’ assembly and a young persons’ assembly.

Recommendations from this review, led by Henry Dimbleby, co-author of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, will result in a trailblazing new National Food Strategy, set to be published in 2020.

I’m sure you will agree – this is a great opportunity to review and improve the impact the food sector has on health, the environment and the economy.

AB Food Nutrition specialises in working closely on all aspects of nutrition labelling/policy with food businesses of all sizes and has years of experience supporting new and small food businesses not just in the North West, but across the UK. Contact Anne to discuss your requirements for a cost-effective food & nutrition labelling quote.

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4 reasons you need a food & nutrition labelling consultant

Maybe you are puzzled at why companies might hire consultants instead of solving their own problems themselves? As much as I hate to hear it, that question does make sense however, there are many reasons why a company might need to use a consultant to help with their nutrition and labelling obligations (and also why I am able to keep working with some of the coolest foodies in the industry!).

 

You might not want the responsibility of verifying all the information on your own

Labelling rules are strictly regulated and can get complicated when trying to establish if you have included all the mandatory information correctly, taken account of the minimum type sizes for the text on your label in addition to any specific declarations that may apply to your product type.

A labelling consultant is there to support you in producing compliant labels.  They are the experts who know what can or cannot be printed on the label and they are aware of which sets of regulations will apply to your product type no matter how complex that may be.

You are just starting out in the food industry

No doubt you have done tons of research looking at competitor products so that you can make your label the best and the most eye catching.  However, if your competitor makes certain claims on their packs, this doesn’t mean that you should too.

Consultants will advise you what is compliant rather than what sells best in the market place.  Brands who break the law do so at their own risk and are likely to be challenged by the authorities eventually.

You don’t have the time to learn about labelling laws

Perhaps you are launching several products at once or have just won a new retail contract with a very tight launch timeline.  Maybe you just don’t have the energy or desire to check your label designs are compliant amongst all the other important tasks required in the running of your expanding business?

By nature, consultants will provide advice that clearly keeps their client within the law, so do exactly what a labelling consultant tells you!!  Obvious I know, but there are so many regulations under constant change, it would be almost impossible for small businesses to keep up. Once you have established your product portfolio and had your labels reviewed, it should become a routine task to add more SKUs in the future if they are of similar ingredients.

You want to hire an experienced and knowledgeable labelling expert

In an ideal world, you would have a team of experts in-house, but the reality is, the number of hours and frequency you would need them means employing these experts full-time is not an option.

This is where the flexibility of using a consultant really comes into its own. You only pay for the services/time the consultant provides.  You also benefit from projects being completed speedily because your consultant (unlike in-house employees) isn’t distracted by other business tasks.  This means good value for money!

It may seem like a big investment or effort to employ a food and nutrition labelling consultant, though you may find that you are eligible for funding or grants that will cover some or all of the fees.  AB Food Nutrition specialises in working closely with organisations of all sizes and has years of experience supporting new and small food businesses not just in the North West, but across the UK. Contact Anne to discuss your requirements for a cost-effective food & nutrition labelling quote.

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