Following the tragic death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger sandwich, it has since been discovered that this was not the first time that Pret has been caught up in such a scandal. A woman named Celia Marsh is thought to have died after eating a flatbread, which seems to have contained dairy despite being packaged as vegan. The incident occurred last December and had previously been held back from the media as the family awaited the outcome of investigations which are still ongoing. Both of these incidents are extremely troubling and understandably people are alarmed and starting to ask pressing questions: How did this happen? Are these companies being held accountable? What needs to change in the retail food industry to ensure the safety of future consumers?
Whilst we can only wait for the full details of both inquiries to be published, this is an appropriate time to advance the discussion regarding ethics in business, whilst momentum is with the subject. These incidents highlight the unwillingness to take the huge responsibility of health and safety seriously in the food industry. Whether or not Pret A Manger is solely at fault in both cases does not change the fact that the industry has been taking shortcuts at the expense of people’s lives. It is evident that firms need a nudge in order to take action and responsibility for the products that they offer the consumer, otherwise the past will only repeat itself.
Despite the fact that Pret A Manger reported continued growth in their sales as of September this year, the domination of these stories within the media headlines will have undoubtedly impacted their brand image; customers have already been put off by the news, especially those with special dietary requirements, to which badly labelled food packaging is a matter of life or death.
CEO, Clive Shlee, has announced that the company will begin trialling fully-labelled food packaging from next month and is looking to do what he can to save the brand’s reputation and avoid another incident, but many critics say that this is too little too late.
Even though it looks like Pret have made the first move, the real question is whether or not other firms in the industry will follow. Teresa May has called for a review into food labelling legislation which sounds like a step in the right direction, but the reality is that these processes take time. Not only this, but if more regulation adds to the production costs of firms or make their products look less desirable, then they are likely to try and find loop holes to avoid the legislation changes.
It could therefore be argued that to make real change, regulators need to be able to impose hefty fines on non-compliant businesses. But whatever the policy, it seems clear that firms need to start prioritising the consumer in the decision-making process – after all, it’s the consumers that have the final say on whether a business fails or succeeds.