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COVID-19 is still impacting recall trends across Europe

While there’s light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and consumers anticipate a return to normal, ‘business-as-usual’ is still a long way off, as reported in our 2021 Recall Index report.

Essential reading for manufacturers and retailers seeking impartial and reliable perspectives on past, present and future product safety trends, the index aggregates recall data from the first half of 2021. It also offers expert analysis and predictions for what’s in store regarding innovation, regulatory developments, and market drivers by industry for the remainder of the year.

Current drivers and trends

2021 brought business interruptions (from COVID-19 and Brexit) and supply chain challenges as well as economic recession. There were semi-conductor shortages, data and cybersecurity issues, and continued apprehension around the safety, quality, and transparency of goods and labelling. Chemicals, contaminants and counterfeiting remained issues in both food and non-food sectors.

Quarter two saw recall events in the food, pharmaceutical and automotive industries increase (from quarter one), signalling a return to pre-pandemic levels. Conversely, the medical device and consumer toy sectors experienced a decline and remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Regulators and legislators are gaining ‘teeth’

As the EU develops new frameworks to support its economic, environmental and safety challenges, companies will need to pay close attention to maintain regulatory compliance. There are targets for phasing out diesel vehicles, preparations for new 2022 pharmaceutical legislation and, in the UK, Natasha’s Law for food and beverage is ready to take force. Meanwhile the implementation of the EU Medical Device Regulation and proposed revisions to the General Product Safety Directive have also made headway. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are getting more proactive too. In the clothing sector, they are uniting to push back against “fast fashion” and its environmental impact.

How Q2 2021 recalls compare to the previous quarter

  • Automotive recalls increased by 16%. Injuries remained the leading risk (78%) while passenger cars were the most impacted category (59%). Semiconductor shortages have been exacerbated by growing trends for electrification, telematics, and automation.
  • Food & beverage recalls have slowly returned to pre-pandemic levels with a slight 8% increase. Contamination (other than bacterial) is the leading cause of recalls (36%) with aflatoxins the most likely threat.
  • Pharmaceutical recall events increased 8%, driven primarily by ‘safety’ concerns. Nearly a third of recalls (31%) were manufactured in France.
  • Medical device recall activity dropped 7%. This remains higher than the 2020 quarterly average but below 2019. Quality issues represented the highest reason for returns in 29% of instances.
  • Electronics recall events dipped by 12% but still represent a 36% increase compared to the 2020 quarterly average. In total, 75% of events were associated with electric shock and linked to products such as electric chargers and cables, lighting chains, hair styling tools, and appliances. 83% of recalled products originated from China.
  • Toy recalls continued their Q1 downward trajectory with a further 19% drop. Chemical risk was the most common cause of recalls (44 %) with more than half these relating to plastic dolls.
  • Clothing recalls increased 78%. Children’s apparel dominated the notifications (72%) with strangulation hazards the most frequent cause.

Companies with global supply chains and a heavy reliance on efficient manufacturing are feeling the effects more than others. Given how quickly business and regulatory environments are evolving, they will have to rely more on expert partners. With the right data, planning, and support, they can help uphold commitments to customers, compliance and supply chain partners, while protecting reputations among the stakeholders that matter most.

Make sure you know the risks and what lies ahead. Download your copy of the new European Recall Index here:


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