2023 was a record-breaking year for European product recalls

March 25, 2024

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By Chris Occleshaw, Recall Consultant

European product recalls grew 15.6% year-over-year in 2023, marking the fifth consecutive year that recalls have increased in five key European sectors. According to Sedgwick brand protection’s 2024 European State of the Nation Recall Index report, the 12,498 total recall events in 2023 broke the previous record of 10,545 events that was set in 2022.

This special edition of Sedgwick’s European Recall Index report goes beyond its traditional quarterly reviews, offering a year-in-review analysis of 2023 recall data and product safety trends. The report also provides essential insights and predictions from Sedgwick’s brand protection experts and network of strategic partners on the legal, regulatory, and economic risks facing the automotive, consumer product, food and drink, medical device, and pharmaceutical industries in 2024.

2023 product recall trends in review

Although we noted last year that the rapid post-pandemic growth in recall activity may be slowing down, 2023 data suggests that may not be the case. The total number of product recalls grew just 4.1% from 2021 to 2022, but that growth more than tripled from 2022 to 2023. The surge in European recalls in 2023 was driven by an increase in events in the medical device, pharmaceutical, electronics, clothing, and food and beverage industries. The automotive and toy industries were the only sectors to see recalls fall.

How 2023 recalls compared to the previous year

  • Even though automotive recalls fell 3.3% from 2022, the 727 events in 2023 were still the second-highest number of recalls recorded in the past ten years. 2023 was the only year on record to have two quarters with more than 200 recall events. Injuries were the leading cause of European automotive recalls in 2023, accounting for 75.1% of events.
  • European food and beverage recalls reached a ten-year high in 2023 with 4,837 events. Contamination (non-bacterial) was the leading cause of recalls, accounting for 1,990 events (41.1%), and fruit and vegetables was the most impacted category in 2023.
  • Recalls in the pharmaceutical sector increased 7.7%, from 311 in 2022 to 335 in 2023. Safety concerns were the leading cause of recalls in 2023 with 107 events, followed by foreign materials/contamination and mislabelling. At 78 events, France submitted the highest number of recall notifications in 2023.
  • The European medical device sector had 3,306 recalls in 2023, a ten-year high and 20.0% more recall events than in 2022. This was largely attributed to Q3 2023, which saw 900 recalls, the highest quarterly figure recorded in over three years. France also issued the most recall notifications for the medical device industry with 780 events.
  • In 2023, electronic recalls surged 48.6% to 538 events, up from 362 in 2022. This marks a third consecutive year of growth and a ten-year high for the sector. Lighting chains were the most recalled electronic product in 2023 for the second consecutive year.
  • The number of European toy recalls fell 18.4%, from 621 in 2022 to 507 in 2023. This decline was largely attributed to Q4 2023, which recorded fewer recalls than we typically see in the final quarter of the year. As with previous years, plastic dolls were the most recalled toy product in 2023.
  • There were 286 European clothing recalls in 2023, marking the highest annual total since 2015 and a 19.7% uplift from 2022. The sector’s growth was notably driven by a surge in Q2 2023, which saw 117 recalls. Only five other quarters in the past ten years have surpassed 100 events.

Looking ahead to 2024

Regulators across the EU and UK continue to enact layers of regulations to protect the environment as well as public safety. Companies will need to be aware of not only their own actions but the operations and practices of their entire supply chain. Moreover, consumers are increasingly demanding greater transparency and information regarding product manufacturing and advertising, prompting regulators to introduce new measures addressing advertising and labelling practices.

We are also seeing increased enforcement against anticompetitive behaviour and cartel activity across sectors and geographic borders. Simultaneously, the EU is in the process of modernising existing regulations, while the UK builds its own regulatory framework independent of the EU. Against this backdrop, numerous ongoing global economic and political challenges persist, adding further complexity to the risk landscape.

With 2024 forecasted to be a busy regulatory year, businesses may find themselves fighting an uphill battle if they don’t plan and prepare for in-market product crises. We also expect regulator and consumer scrutiny of product safety and the practices of businesses throughout the entire product lifecycle to continue increasing, which could compound existing challenges. Comprehensive and well-tested recall and crisis plans will be key for businesses hoping to stay on level ground.

The European Recall Index is published every quarter by Sedgwick’s brand protection experts. It is the only report that aggregates and tracks recall data across the UK and EU to help industry stakeholders navigate the regulatory environment, product recalls, and other in-market challenges.

To download your copy of the latest European Recall Index report, click here.

Tags: Brand, Brand protection, brand protection and recall, European recall index, legal, Preserving brands, Product recall, recall, Recall Index, regulation