Business

Because tomorrow will be different . . .

Among legal issues businesses must consider is what role artificial intelligence might have in food manufacturing and their supply chain

DISRUPTIVE technology and evolving regulation means the rate of change in the retail, food and hospitality sectors is unparalleled. Throw Brexit into the mix and we see significant issues which will impact these sectors. So how prepared is your business?

It started with the online revolution, which affects everything from the way we shop, to how we book travel. Now technologies such as artificial intelligence continue to change the way businesses interact with consumers and affect the way manufacturers track their products and the supply chain.

Successful retail, food and hospitality businesses depend on consumer loyalty. With new risks such as data breaches, employment practice scandals and supply chain fraud, the value of reputation cannot be underestimated. By understanding the bigger picture and the issues facing the sector you can help your business adapt to the changing agenda – and not just react.

Significant legal issues for businesses to consider are:

:: Brexit – how exposed is your business to the Irish and wider European market? Do you have a Brexit blueprint in place? Do you know how post-Brexit regulatory, quota or tariff changes may impact you? What impact will Brexit have on your existing contracts? Technologies such as blockchain may provide part of the solution towards a frictionless border – and understanding this and the potential legal issues surrounding the use of this technology will help you be prepared. Planning is necessary even in the absence of certainty. What is certain is that if any deal is reached with the EU it will be last minute.

:: Labour supply – with changes to ‘gig' economy and immigration rules, as well as a reduction in migrant labour, businesses need to consider if their labour model is ready for the future. Do you need to plan for the potential loss of seasonal workers? Managing and communicating change within the workforce in uncertain times also has its own challenges.

:: Reformulation of foods and obesity – will the increased government focus on nutritional profiles impact your products in 2018/19? What changes might you need to make?

::Technology and innovation – are you leveraging tech and data to maximise value? What role does artificial intelligence have in food manufacturing and your supply chain?

:: Circular economy – are you realising the value of waste as a resource? Do you know how anaerobic digestion or other clean energy sources might help your business? Are you ready to reduce the plastic in your packaging? Sustainability has moved from being a corporate social responsibility exercise to an essential part of the business plan.

At present there are more questions than answers. We are living in interesting and frequently unpredictable times which require the retail, food and hospitality sectors to evolve to meet new business, regulatory and legal issues.

Whatever happens next, there is an opportunity for change like no other. The lack of devolution means leadership needs to come from within the sectors.

From farm to fork, factory to front door and beyond, our expert sector teams work across jurisdictions to advise on a full range of legal disciplines for the retail, food and hospitality sectors - predicting, enabling and driving change.

:: Julie Galbraith (julie.galbraith@dwf.law) is partner/head of retail food and hospitality at DWF Belfast (www.dwf.law)

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