Whether cheese, red wine, or homemade chutney: If you want to sell food online, you have to know the peculiarities of the business and comply with laws. That is on top of dealing with marketing your food service online, which you might get help with from professionals.
What food is has been regulated throughout Europe since 2002: all products that are intended or can reasonably be expected to be ingested by humans as food. The legislator also includes substances that are intentionally added to food during production or processing – including water. Medicines, food supplements, tobacco, and tobacco products are not foods.
Return Policy: Does not apply to all food
All online retailers are obliged to inform the buyer about his right of withdrawal and return before ordering. This also applies to food. However, the online retailer does not have to accept every return.
In the case of canned and packaged food, there is only a right of withdrawal and return if the goods have not been opened. Ready meals cannot be claimed if an existing seal has been removed. Whether a simple packaging film already counts as a seal has not yet been legally clarified, but it can be assumed.
Fresh goods such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, or fish are excluded from return without exception. The same applies to all foodstuffs whose expiry date would have been exceeded within the return period.
In addition, goods tailored to personal needs are excluded from revocation and return, such as an individual-made wedding cake with personal decorations. Dishes prepared at the time of ordering or delivery, such as pizza from the delivery service, are also considered to be tailored to personal needs.
Basic prices: weights, volumes, and masses
Books, laptops, toys: Most products are sold piecemeal. Many foods, on the other hand, are traded by weight or volume, for example, “1 kg mountain cheese” or “a bottle of 500 ml herbal liqueur”. Anyone who uses such information must always indicate the basic price for a unit in the immediate vicinity of the final price. For “a bottle of 500 ml herbal liqueur for 14.90 euros” must be obvious: “1 liter costs 29.80 euros.”
The Price Indication Ordinance allows the basic price for products weighing up to 250 grams or up to 250 milliliters in volume to refer to 100 grams or 100 milliliters. Important: The base price must be visible in both the item description and product lists.
Advertising: Special rules apply to food
Online retailers must be careful when advertising. Laws restrict the advertising of food. For example, comparisons that promote one product as healthier than another are prohibited.
It is important to note that products with correct names are offered. Orange juice with pulp must not consist of orange juice concentrate, liver sausage must contain at least ten percent liver. The guiding principles of the German Food Book provide orientation.
Naming: Vegetarian and vegan foods
At the end of 2018, the German Food Book Commission (DLMBK), which is part of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), published its guidelines for vegetarian and vegan foods. Accordingly, manufacturers and retailers must label vegetarian and vegan products correctly in order not to deceive consumers.
Terms unusual for meatless products such as chops or steak may not be used. In most cases, designations based on processed animal products, such as “vegetarian tofu schnitzel” or “vegan soy spreadable sausage”, are permitted. If in doubt, you should ask the DLMBK.
As a general rule, all products that are not clearly vegetarian and vegan by name must be labeled as vegetarian or vegan in a clearly visible place.
It is also worth noting that protected geographical indications and designations for guaranteed traditional specialties may never be used for vegetarian and vegan products. “Vegetarian Thuringian Rostbratwurst” or “vegan Black Forest trout” may not be sold.
Labeling obligation: Regulation at the EU level
The EU Food Information Regulation goes far beyond the guidelines. It is also the basis for the labeling requirement for food sold online introduced in December 2014. Every shop operator must comply with this labeling obligation.
Simply put, the EU requires all online retailers to label food with the same information as in traditional retail. These include, for example, the correct name of the food, the list of ingredients, the number of designated ingredients, and any alcohol content. The country of origin and place of provenance of the food must also be indicated.
Mandatory information on allergens such as nuts or flavor enhancers ensures greater consumer protection. Detailed information on EU regulations can be found, for example, on the website of the Munich lawyer Max-Lion Keller.
Alcoholic beverages: protection of minors on the net
Special care should be taken when selling alcoholic beverages. So it is anti-competitive to advertise them in any way as digestible or even healthy.
In addition, the Youth Protection Act applies. The online retailer must take appropriate measures to ensure that certain alcoholic beverages are only sold to persons aged 18 and over. Which method he uses to ensure this is up to the online retailer. Age verification by identity card and/or credit card as well as telephone contact between seller and customer are common. However, no procedure guarantees one hundred percent security.