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Warning for Kent food firms

16 February 2011

Kent’s food and drink businesses are on the up despite challenging economic conditions – but, warns a leading food sector lawyer, to sustain that growth they should be aware of recent changes in the law and the possible impact

At a dinner hosted by Vertex Law and Grant Thornton and attended by senior executives from the county’s food and drink industry, Sarah Whibley, who heads Kings Hill-based Vertex’s specialist food and drink sector team, outlined new legislation facing the sector and explained how it could affect them.

New regulations that came into force last year include the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which aims to ensure fair dealing between large grocery retailers and their suppliers; national minimal age legislation, which now covers apprentice pay and updated Incoterms (from 1 January this year) applying to the sale, movement and delivery of goods; and, looking forward to this year, the implications of the Bribery Act 2010; new agency worker regulations and the limits on workers from outside the EU as well as the ongoing impact of the Companies Act 2006 and the possible reform relating to cooperatives.

Sarah also pointed out as from April 2011 land agreements, including leases, will be covered by competition law in the forthcoming Land Agreements Exclusion Order.

“There is so much legislation surrounding the production and supply of food and drink and it is vital that business owners are up to speed with the current regulations to prevent them falling foul of the law, and to prepare for the forthcoming regulations,” said Sarah.

“The new legislation doesn’t just affect the day to day working of the businesses – it also impacts on how they do business – and managers are advised to keep up to speed with all the do’s and don’ts to ensure the smooth running of their companies.

“In Kent we have some of the finest food and drink producers in the UK. There are signs that the sector avoided the worst effects of the recession and is feeling well placed to grow and prosper – it is an encouraging picture.”

The dinner was held at Bradbourne House, East Malling, and as well as hearing about the legal issues facing the industry, Stuart Stepney of Grant Thornton’s Food & Beverage sector group presented the key findings from the firm’s report ‘Targeting growth: challenges and opportunities for the UK Food and Beverage sector’.

Stuart commented: “In terms of mergers and acquisitions in the sector, 2011 has already seen activity. Premier Foods and Northern Foods have both made recent headlines with significant transactions taking place, which has highlighted the deal opportunities within the sector.

“At a regional level we are seeing businesses emerge from the economic downturn and are ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the future. Once again they are looking at acquisitions as a way to grow more rapidly in an ever challenging market place.”

After a meal of locally sourced produce prepared by Bradbourne House’s chef Scott Anderson, guests heard from guest speaker Marion Regan, managing director of Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd, who spoke of food security and other recent events which raise the issue of how the county sustainably produces quality food for an ever-growing population.

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