+390677209020 | +39 0267380552 info@direnzo.biz | sedemilano@direnzo.biz


E-commerce of foods and food supplements, a growing market

Online retail sale is an essential strategy for most small- and medium-sized enterprises operating in the food sector, not only to widen their base of potential customers compared to a physical shop, but also to optimise the distribution chain and, in general, to increase their online visibility.

Online sale of foods and food supplements directly to consumers is becoming more and more considerable in Italy. Although this market area is historically less digitally advanced than other sectors, in 2020 it recorded a relevant growth, and was one of the main driving forces generating consumptions during the SARS-CoV-2 Covid-19 emergency. In front of such market growth, also shared by other EU countries, it is essential that Food Business Operators (FBOs) understand the responsibilities deriving from their online shop.

Operators’ pre-market responsibilities

The essential requirement for an online retail sale activity in the food sector is the registration of the company as FBO. This step is also essential in case the concerned company – managing the online store – outsources both manufacturing and storage to third companies specialised in this kind of activity.

Actually, according to the regulations in force, all companies operating in the food distribution chain should be registered as FBO. As per art. 71 of the Italian legislative decree 59/2010, a company that has just been set up shall submit a certified report on the start of activities (Segnalazione Certificata di Inizio Attività (SCIA)) to the competent one-stop shop for manufacturing activities (Sportello Unico Attività Produttive, SUAP), including a statement as well as evidence of its ethical and professional requirements and, contextually, a notification to the local health authority (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, ASL).

One of the operator’s task is also the drafting of a self-monitoring plan, whose complexity varies depending on the activity performed. Once this set of pre-market activities has been completed, the company can start their own online store.

Operators’ marketing responsibilities

The e-commerce formula is very different from the marketplace, essentially because of the legal responsibility held by the company toward consumers. If, on one hand, the marketplace is a platform where the owner of the web space providing the service (e.g. Ebay) is not aware of the details of the sale between sellers and purchasers, and the latter manages the sale in full autonomy, on the other, all changes when talking about e-commerce, where the sellers are directly responsible for the foods they sell and for the information they provide to consumers.

There are also halfway formulas (such as Amazon), when one can find a hybrid “marketplace/e-commerce” setting. All operators, including distributers operating through an online platform, hold civil and criminal liability, and should therefore ensure compliance in terms of the information they provide as well as the quality and safety of their food products.

Part of the principles regulating e-commerce follows the rules for the food labelling

A company creating their own website for B2C sales of foods or food supplements should comply with a rather articulated legal framework, and the relevant responsibilities on the information provided to consumers and on health safety protection are not always fully understood. E-commerce pages should generally follow the regulating principles of food labelling (even though special waivers are provided for), but according to the provisions of Italian legislative decree 70/2003 and the Consumer’s Code, it should also follow a set of rules specifically applicable to e-commerce.

There are also special prescriptions for certain foods, and some norms impose further responsibilities if some food products are sold between different EU member states. Finally, for the online sale of food supplements, all vertical regulations pertaining to the sector also apply.

It is important to be aware that, in case no compliance with the applicable regulations regarding the information and tools to be provided to consumers on an e-commerce space, measures can be taken by the competent monitoring bodies, such as the Italian Ministry of Health, the Antitrust body (AGCOM), the Central Inspectorate for quality protection and repression of frauds on food and agriculture products (ICQRF), and the Institute for advertising self-monitoring, through specific competence and measures.

Written by: Francesco Di Gianni

Foto di athree23 da Pixabay