What is a Food Business Operator - and can a third party act as your FBO?

Clare Daley
March 15, 2024
5 min read
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What is a Food Business Operator - and can a third party act as your FBO?

The food industry is one of the tightest regulated sectors in the world – both in terms of legal requirements and following safety and hygiene rules.

To ensure your brand is keeping up with best practices, in the UK and European Union (EU), you must appoint a Food Business Operator (FBO) who knows local laws and can provide documentation to prove you’re compliant.

If you’re new to the food market or expanding into Europe, you may not know your company’s FBO requirements. We’ve put together this quick guide to Food Business Operators to help you find a suitable partner: 

What is a Food Business Operator? 

A Food Business Operator – or FBO – is the person legally responsible for ensuring your products meet the requirements of food laws in every UK/EU region you trade. 

Their role is to ensure your company follows European food hygiene and safety standards and that any arrangements with third parties (like suppliers or producers) also meet local legal requirements. 

In addition, an FBO can help with essential paperwork, like filing food supplement notifications in Member States that require this documentation. 

There are certain practical conditions your Food Business Operator must meet. For example, your FBO’s physical registered address must be included on your product packaging or label.

Do you need a different FBO for the EU and UK?  

Yes! However, you don’t need a different FBO for each EU Member State you sell; a single FBO or importer address will suffice for all EU markets. It’s worth noting that Northern Ireland is still considered to be inside the European Union.

If you plan to sell prepackaged food products in the UK, you’ll need a separate FBO, as Britain is no longer part of the European Union. 

On 1st January 2024, it became a legal requirement for pre-packaged food labels on products sold in Britain to include a UK-registered address. 

This regulation change means that if you import food products from the EUropean Union, you will now need to include your business address, or the address of a distributor, importer or FBO on the label, to avoid non-compliance enforcement from Trading Standards. 

Read more on the UK Food Standard Agency’s enforcement of FBO regulations

Can a third party act as your UK/EU FBO? 

Yes, they can, and many food brands rely on third-party support as part of their European expansion strategy. 

Some companies use a European importer as their legal representative. However, the growth of ‘distance selling’ via platforms like Amazon has resulted in a gap emerging, where international brands don’t necessarily need an importer or distributor to sell a product online. 

Distance selling is cheaper than funding a physical presence and simpler from an administration and taxation perspective. But, you still need to appoint a legal representative to undertake FBO responsibilities for your brand. 

For more insights on distance selling, read our blog post: sell online in Europe in six strategic steps

Even if you’re using a distributor model, you may need a different party to act as your FBO. Not every importer is willing to offer FBO services as they don’t always want to be named on product packaging or deal with technical compliance. Plus, distributors can be limited in the areas they can cover and may not have in-depth knowledge of multiple European languages and legislation. 

A popular alternative to using a distributor as your FBO is to appoint a compliance agency as your third-party legal representative. Someone neutral who knows local legislation, who can accurately manage technical documentation, and who can liaise with your brand, relevant third parties and local authorities.

There are many services a compliance agency can provide to fulfil the role of an FBO. These include: 

  • Giving you a local address to include on your product packaging 
  • Checking your product composition meets local legislation 
  • Notifying you of any law changes that could affect your products and packaging
  • Liaising with local authorities and making sure technical and legal documentation is up-to-date and available 

Hooley Brown offers legal representation as part of our strategic support packages for food brands growing internationally. We act as a hub for our clients, supporting their brand and engaging with European distributors. 

What are the benefits of using a compliance agency as your FBO? 

First and foremost, outsourcing your Food Business Operator role to a third party takes the weight off your shoulders. You can share responsibility for ensuring local requirements are fulfilled. 

However, the benefits of using a compliance agency as your FBO stretch beyond the basics. 

Partnering with an expert in local legislation, languages, and culture will help you optimise your products for each region rather than just meeting the minimum legal requirements. It will also provide a central coordination point between you and your European distributors. 

Hooley Brown offers several value-added services for European expansion, from clustering languages on your packaging so you can use it across multiple markets to creating localised promotions to promote your best-selling SKUs.

Hooley Brown’s global network of compliance experts also continually scans the horizon for legal updates. We help food brands anticipate regulation changes and adapt or reformulate products to meet compliance requirements while appealing to local consumers. 

If you’re interested in using Hooley Brown as your FBO, send us a message. We’d be happy to discuss our legal representative services further. 

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