Damian O’Kelly is the CEO and founder of Nutritics, founder of the UK Food Labelling Resource with partners MMU, the Quadram Institute and EuroFIR. He outlines why Nutritics brought other food industry experts together to form this partnership.

  1. Tell us a bit about Nutritics

Nutritics was founded in 2013 after my experience working as a sports nutritionist with athletes who were training for the Commonwealth Games using industry standard software to analyse their diets. However, programmes kept crashing and databases weren’t comprehensive or accessible online. 

I ended up building my own database in an Excel spreadsheet that I’d typed hundreds of food types into. My brother Ciarán, a designer and programmer, was appalled at this approach. Working together, we built an application that could analyse every component of what people eat – individual nutrients, allergens, cost proportion – and track energy expenditure and map out meal plans.

In late 2014, we started to receive many enquiries from food businesses about how Nutritics could be utilised for their purposes, how to comply with the latest changes in food law. We soon recognised the gap in the market and built a suite of tools for the food industry including recipe calculation, cost analysis, supplier management, menu planning and food labelling. 

Our most recent addition is LabelMagic. It was specifically designed to meet the needs of food businesses who are faced with the challenge of maintaining accurate food label information. I should also mention our Digital Menu offering which has been very strong as businesses have switched to online or non-contact ordering solutions during the pandemic.

Nutritics now works with customers in more than 180 countries across the world. Whilst the tools our customers use might vary depending depending on their needs, our goal remains the same – to facilitate transparency on ingredients and food information. 

  1. Why did you decide to set up the UK Food Labelling Resource?

The reason we set up the UK Food Labelling Resource is similar to the reason behind setting up Nutritics. Natasha’s Law is about ensuring transparency on ingredients, particularly the 14 allergens through clearly labelled products.  

Recognising the impact this legislation change will have on the industry, we wanted to raise awareness, share our expertise and most importantly, break down the new regulation into bite-size, easily digestible and actionable pieces, making it easy for food businesses to understand and comply with Natasha’s Law.Whether you’re a small independent sandwich shop or a large catering firm, we know the different steps that are involved in identifying ingredients, allergens and in maintaining accurate information as recipes are put together and products packaged. 

We work with businesses right across the world to help them meet food regulations in their country. Changes require time to prepare for and we wanted to get together with other like-minded food industry experts such as our partners in EuroFIR, the Quadram Institute and MMU, to share the knowledge that we all have in this area free of charge.

  1. What do you aim to achieve through the Resource and the natashas-law.com website?

Whether you are a small or large business, Natasha’s Law means the same – if you sell pre-packed food for direct sale, you need to display a full list of ingredients and allergens on a label for the consumer to read before making their choice to purchase. 

Accuracy and full compliance are essential here, so we’re sharing our expertise on how to manage that through our step-by-step guides and training events. Our goal is to share our expertise and that of all the UK Food Labelling Resource partners in one place, making it easier and more efficient for businesses to prepare for this legislation by October 2021. We’ve put together guides on engaging with suppliers, we’re advising on implementation processes and we’re also running training webinars to help businesses fully understand the steps to take.  

  1. Do you expect to see changes in behaviour from October 2021?

I think there are two aspects to this. Firstly, the regulation is compulsory which means from October, there should be no reason not to be transparent with consumers about what is being sold and what they are buying. What we might see are teething issues with regards to the regulations but these should be absolutely minimal. There are resources available to businesses such as those available here. The Food Standards Agency is also implementing a significant awareness and support campaign to help everyone be ready for October 2021.

Secondly, consumers are continuing to demand more information from food businesses before they choose what to purchase. That’s true whether you are selling a product on a supermarket shelf, buying a sandwich to go, ordering a takeaway or eating out in a restaurant. People want to know how many calories they are consuming, how a product has been prepared and what the exact ingredients and allergens are. Knowledge is power. Consumers want to feel like  they can trust the food supplier and make an informed choice. Companies who make this information more accessible and readily available will triumph ahead of those who aren’t as transparent. 

  1. What do you think will be the next development in the area of food labelling both in the UK and globally?

I think we will see a higher demand for  transparency of food information. I’d expect the labelling requirement to be broadened to include all foods. I’d expect to see more demands for transparency on food being bought for takeaway, particularly given the growth of this area as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. If we’ve seen one thing in the last year, it’s that the food sector is incredibly creative and swift to adapt to the need to change and that’s reassuring to everyone working to prepare for new regulations.