E-commerce means selling and buying goods and services online. It is also known as internet or electronic commerce, where goods, including food products, can be sold and bought using the internet. Nowadays, all major e-commerce websites sell food products, including fresh fruits and vegetables and packed food items.
There has been an increase in e-commerce/online food wholesalers and retailers like Big Basket, Swiggy, Grofers, Zomato, etc. With the rise in e-commerce business dealing in food, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) made it compulsory for all e-commerce food companies to obtain FSSAI food licenses for their entire supply chain.
Under the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 (FSS Act), e-commerce businesses cannot deal in any type of food product without an FSSAI license. The e-commerce businesses have to apply for an FSSAI Central License irrespective of their capacity or turnover threshold limit.
E-Commerce Business Models
The FSSAI prescribes food standards in India and regulates e-commerce food businesses. The FSSAI defines e-commerce Food Business Operators (FBOs) as those carrying out businesses through an online platform or medium.
The FSSAI has defined the e-commerce business models as follows:
- Inventory Based Model: The e-commerce business/company owns the inventory and food services in this type of model. They sell food directly to the consumers.
- Marketplace Based Model: In this model, an e-commerce company is a facilitator of an IT platform to the buyers, sellers, marketers and manufacturers of food products. The sellers, manufacturers and marketers sell food to the buyers through the platform provided by the e-commerce companies.
- Hybrid Model: The e-commerce companies function as a marketplace and as a retailer or wholesaler in this type of model. They get revenue from service charges and income from the sale of goods.
E-Commerce Food Business Operators
The following e-commerce FBOs are covered under FSSAI and need to obtain FSSAI License:
- E-commerce businesses that provide listing services on their platform to manufacturers, restaurants, sellers, etc. For example Zomato, Swiggy, etc.
- Manufacturers, brand owners, sellers, or producers who display their products or services (processing, catering, or packaging) for direct sale to customers through a marketplace based e-commerce model or an inventory-based e-commerce model. For example: Fresh Menu.
- E-commerce businesses which provide transportation to the seller, vendor, brand owner or manufacturer, who list their food products online to the consumer directly.
- E-commerce businesses that provide the facility of storage and distribution services to their sellers for their food listed on the online portal.
FSSAI Licensing and Registration Requirements for E-Commerce Business
According to the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulation, 2011, all e-commerce FBOs must obtain an FSSAI license from the Central Licensing Authority. They need to get an FSSAI license for the entire supply chain, including manufacturers, registered office, storage place, transporter, distributor, etc.
All e-commerce FBOs should enter into an agreement with the manufacturers, sellers, brand owners, or vendors to follow the FSSAI regulations. They must ensure that trained personnel deliver the food products. They must maintain food quality and food safety at the time of delivery.
All food articles delivered to the consumers by the e-commerce FBOs must have a shelf-life of at least 30% or 45 days before expiry on the date of delivery to the consumers. In the case of restaurants or caterers selling products online, they must ensure that only fresh food items are delivered to the consumers.
The e-commerce FBOs are required to comply with the following guidelines:
- Not providing any misleading information or false claims relating to the brand owners, sellers, manufacturers, retailers, vendors, distributors, or other importers.
- Not displaying any misleading images of food-related services or food products.
E-commerce FBOs, including sellers, vendors, brand owners, manufacturers etc. involved in selling pre-packed food to the customers, are required to comply with the following listing guidelines:
- Ensure the display of a legible and clear image of the principal display panel of the food product.
- Clearly show the display panel containing the lot or batch number, expiry date, and the maximum retail price of the food product.
- Provide an indicative image of the food product that is offered for sale through their e-commerce platform.
- Display their FSSAI license number obtained under the FSS Act and the hygiene grading of the FBO rated by FSSAI.
- Display the FSSAI license/registration of all the food business entities listed on their e-commerce platform.
- Provide other information regarding the food product available on the e-commerce website.
- Every e-commerce FBO should comply with the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses), Regulations 2011 to maintain the basic hygiene and quality of the food products and services.
- E-commerce FBOs have to immediately communicate any complaints relating to product quality, efficacy, or other issues to the sellers, importers, brand owners, or manufacturing companies for speedy and immediate resolution.
FSSAI License Registration Process for E-Commerce Business
- Go to the FoSCoS website.
- Click on the ‘Apply/License Registration’ tab on the website homepage.
- Select the state where the e-commerce company has registered its office from the drop-down menu.
- Click on the ‘Trade/Retail’ option available on the screen below.
- Select the ‘e-Commerce’ option from the list, select the ‘E-Commerce covered under Center License’ option and click on the ‘Proceed’ button.
- Click on the ‘Click here to apply for Central License for all businesses’ button on the next page.
- Fill in the premises, product selection, communication details and click on the ‘Save & Next’ button.
- Upload the required documents, pay the registration fees and submit the FSSAI form.
- The FSSAI authorities will go through the application form and inspect the office premises if required.
- The FSSAI authorities will issue the FSSAI License Registration Certificate after satisfying the e-commerce business meets all the required criteria. The e-commerce business can download the FSSAI license registration certificate from the FoSCoS portal.
The e-commerce business representatives can also apply for the FSSAI registration offline by visiting the Commissioner of Food Safety and submitting the filled FSSAI application form with the documents to the Food Safety Department/Office. The authorities will review the application and grant the FSSAI license registration.
Documents Required for FSSAI Registration
- ID proof of the e-commerce FBO.
- Proof of possession of premises (registered office of the e-commerce business) such as sale deed, electricity bill, rent agreement, etc.
- List of company directors with address and contact details.
- Partnership deed, self-declaration for proprietorship or certificate of incorporation.
- Import/Export Code (IEC).
- Food safety management system plan or certificate.
- List of food products.
- Trade license, panchayath license, corporation license or municipality license.
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