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Food hygiene focus on retail

Presenting a snapshot of how the retail sector is being impacted by food hygiene and the Food Hygiene ratings system, based on the findings from our 2019 report “A fresh look at Food Hygiene


"Food retail is changing. The traditional high street is in decline. Amid the chaos, it’s important not to get complacent about important everyday jobs like hygiene. Even the smallest lapse in standards can make or break a reputation overnight. While the reality may be less severe than the headlines would have you believe, there’s no question that the public are becoming more concerned about how their food is sourced, handled and stored."

Frank Woods, Retail Sector Specialist at NFU Mutual

A unique perspective

At NFU Mutual we’re uniquely placed to analyse the food market and food hygiene in particular. We insure three quarters of the UK’s farms and thousands of retail, manufacturing and hospitality businesses that supply the food we eat from ‘field to fork’.
In February 2017 we published our first Food Hygiene Ratings Report which looked at what the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) ratings meant to the public and their impact on businesses. To update the picture, we commissioned a new report in 2019 surveying a demographically representative sample of over 2,000 people across the UK. We then assessed these findings in conjunction with the FSA food hygiene tool to better understand the country’s current attitudes and spending patterns.

Food retail: an industry snapshot

The research took place against a somewhat complex background for the industry. Recent news stories such as the cross-contamination tragedies at Byron Burger and Pret-a-Manger have raised public awareness of food hygiene and safety, yet new legislation to make rating stickers mandatory in England has still to be implemented. Local authorities are responsible for their own ratings, but funding cuts have resulted in fewer inspections, making it difficult for businesses to challenge their score. There have also been questions raised about consistency between different regions, which has the potential for unfair FSA ratings.

NFU Mutual Research 2019

Current attitudes

The majority of respondents in our research (98%) said they would be influenced by a food hygiene rating displayed in a window - an increase from 2017, which shows more trust being placed in the scheme.

69% of people check the food hygiene ratings of the establishments they use and although the public don’t as strongly associate food hygiene in the retail sector as hospitality, 18% of customers still look for ratings at these outlets.

1 in 3 people would also turn away if a premises had a rating of 3 or less. This is unwelcome news for the 52,004 business with a lower rating as if displays were made mandatory, this could be potentially damaging to trade.

Which types of business would you expect to be required by law to hold a food hygiene rating?

Restaurants, pubs, cafés 77%
Takeaway, fast food 76%
Hotels, B&Bs 72%
Bakeries, butchers, delis, grocers 63%
Food producers 57%
Supermarkets 46%
Distributors, transporters 38%
Farmers, growers 24%
Importers, exporters 21%
Newsagents, convenience stores 19%

Public support

91% of people are in favour of a new law in England to make displaying food hygiene ratings compulsory compared with 88% in 2017. The strong groundswell of support shows that even with the current delay in legislation, the move seems inevitable.

Reputational impact

The public invariably think the worst when a food hygiene issue arises in the media. Such perceptions can cause serious damage to reputation and revenue as even the cleanest of sites can fail inspections due to mismanaged paperwork or incorrect workspace layout which are often under-represented in news stories.

What do you immediately assume a business is guilty of if they are in the media for poor hygiene? 

Dirty workspace 37%
Bacteria 21%
Pests    15%
Food stored incorrectly 12%
Unwashed hands 4%
Mouldy food 4%
Food past its use-by date 3%
Poor paperwork 1%
Workspace layout 0%

Change in buying behaviour

Consumers were asked if hearing about hygiene and recall issues had changed the way they buy food from different sectors.
41% of customers said food hygiene and recall issues suffered by producers did affect how they bought food from shops, with 22% now taking more time to look at the labels on packaging.

Although not as high as the 55% in hospitality, the finding shows retailers and manufacturers are far from immune and can’t afford to be complacent.

Outbreaks and product recalls are very expensive and damaging for companies; and as public awareness grows, the consequences can impact the reputation for any business as it can be difficult to regain public trust after a hygiene issue, with a potential catastrophic loss to trade.


While consumers are more familiar with the food hygiene ratings stickers in cafes and restaurants, it is less well known that food retailers also receive the same ratings. However, this may well change, with the subsequent impact upon the retail sector likely to be pronounced. So, it is critical that food retailers are clear about how they address their processes and practices.
To find out how NFU Mutual can support your retail business, please contact your local NFU Mutual office