Nothing to sneeze at: Digital menu boards and allergy information

Oct. 29, 2014 | by Drew Harding
Nothing to sneeze at: Digital menu boards and allergy information

Dec. 13, 2014 — if you're based in Europe and are in the food and drink industry it's a date you are (or should be) very aware of! It's the day that new EU laws come into force that requires food businesses to provide allergy information on any food sold unpackaged, for example in catering outlets, deli counters, bakeries and sandwich bars.

These law changes will be enforced in 2014 to comply with the new EU FIR 1169/2011 law on the provision of food information to consumers. Evidence suggests that most food allergy incidents can be traced back to non-prepacked food, therefore information on potential allergens should always be provided to the consumer, and as such businesses now need to comply with the regulation changes by December 2014.

So what's changing in 2014?

To comply with the new EU FIR 1169/2011 legislation, food business must provide information to the consumer if there is a food product which contains or uses an ingredient or processing aid derived from one of the 14 substances or products listed below, regardless of the level of use, unless the ingredient or processing aid is no longer present in the food in neither its original or altered form.

These 14 substances or products are:

  1. Cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridized strains)
  2. Crustaceans
  3. Peanut
  4. Egg
  5. Fish
  6. Lupin
  7. Milk
  8. Molluscs
  9. Nuts (almond, hazelnut, walnut, cashew, pecan nut, Brazil nut, pistachio nut and Macadamia nut
  10. Soybean
  11. Sesame
  12. Celery
  13. Mustard
  14. Sulphur dioxide (>10mg/kg or 10mL/L in ready-to-eat or reconstituted products)

Simply put, there is no getting around this from December. If you're a food and drink business you will be legally required to supply allergy information for every menu item you sell, individually. A blanket "all of our dishes may contain allergens" is NOT acceptable and you CANNOT say you "do not know" what allergens are in your foods; you NEED TO KNOW exactly what allergens are in all of the food you sell.

Communicating the information.

There are various ways in which this information can be delivered to consumers:

1) Providing the information upfront

According to guidance from the U.K. Government body, the Food Standards Agency:

"Details of allergens will have to be listed clearly in an obvious place."

This can be done using things such as:

  • Menus
  • Chalkboards
  • Info packs

2) When a customer requests the information

If businesses choose not to provide the allergy information upfront they will need to signpost where the information can be obtained verbally from a member of staff. In this scenario there must be a way 1) for this information to be verified/checked by others, 2) for it to be confirmed as accurate, and finally 3) for the same information to be given every time.

Delivering this information verbally provides many issues:

  • Ensuring staff are providing the right information;
  • Training staff on all menu items (especially if there is high staff turnover);
  • Ensuring staff have the most current allergen/menu information;
  • Operational time consumption— customer asks server > server asks chef > chef checks the menu and reverts to server > server reverts to customer > the process repeats;
  • Potentially a poor customer experience leading to negative brand perception; and
  • No hard proof of delivering information – "he said/she said" scenario.

Delivering the information upfront would appear to be the most robust way for businesses. By choosing to communicate using non-digital/traditional methods also provides some challenges and considerations for businesses:

  • Menus can become overcrowded and cluttered with the amount of information required;
  • Reduced menu flexibility/ability to introduce new menu items quickly;
  • Big process to update multisite business menu items;
  • Can negatively impact on brand image; and
  • Relying on staff at each location to implement new menu changes.

Clearly this has already caused, and will continue to cause, a big headache for businesses with yet more food information needing to be delivered to the customer. In a fast-paced environment it can be very difficult to ensure this information will be communicated effectively and that your business remains lawful. As highlighted above there are pitfalls for delivering this information both verbally and by non-digital/traditional methods; however, by using digital signage businesses can tackle these changes and improve other areas of their operation at the same time.

Why digital?

Speed

The speed at which businesses can update menu information using digital signage is a substantial advantage. Publishing content to screens can be done literally in seconds, allowing content to be up to date at all times.

Variation

Displaying different menu content at different times of day can be achieved easily using scheduling functionality. This provides the creative flexibility to not overcrowd menus with all of the items and their information but to segment them into different serving periods.

Adaptive

The new legislation requires a large amount of information to be declared to the customer. By using digital, it is possible to structure menu designs an unlimited number of times to incorporate all of this information. You can incorporate touch and tablets to make accessing the data an interactive experience for customers and test various menu designs to ensure the information is communicated clearly and effectively.

Future proof

This is the latest round of food information law changes, but who's to say what's next? By using digital, the hardware or "real estate" is installed and it's the content that is updated, meaning no matter what information is required in future, businesses can meet those requirements.

Integration with existing systems

Using digital signage it is possible to integrate data from EPoS and recipe management software, meaning businesses can update menu content on one system and push that through to the digital signage. By integrating in this way, digital signage becomes a core component of delivering the information to all areas of a business, from back of house to front of house.

Additional benefits

Studies carried out on the effects of digital menu boards over the past few years have identified they really do improve business. We've outlined a few of the key benefits below:

  • Average sales uplift of 3-5 percent;
  • Average increase of margin per transaction of 2.5-3 percent;
  • Increase in positive brand perception;
  • 29.5 percent of customers find digital menus influential for purchase of a product;
  • Reduction in menu printing costs; and
  • Improved operational efficiency.

A few more things to consider:

From a food and drink business point of view you need to think about the customer experience you want to deliver… Do you want it to be memorable, positive and worth talking about? If you do, then digital signage, digital menu boards and digital allergy information boards need to be a serious consideration moving forward.

There are a variety of solutions on the market so be sure to consider all available options and choose the right solution for your business.

Finally do not ignore the importance of professional digital signage content. This is your brand and you want it to be remembered for the right reasons, so consider your content design and the creative delivery of this information. Getting legal doesn't have to be bland; seize the opportunity to make some positive changes in the way you communicate menu information to consumers… The time is now!

Cover image courtesy of Ryan Hyde.


Topics: Menu Boards, Restaurants, Trends / Statistics



Drew Harding
Drew Harding is head of Sales & Marketing at Eclipse Digital Media, a UK Based Digital Signage company providing end-to-end Digital Signage solutions to multiple industries. wwwView Drew Harding's profile on LinkedIn

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