A key-policy maker at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has accused the hospitality industry of not playing its part in the battle to change consumer eating habits.
Speaking at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum, Dr Clair Baynton, head of nutrition at the FSA, said that most of the hospitality industry was lagging behind the wider food industry in reducing salt, sugar, fat and portion sizes.
“Companies that manufacture food for the retail sector are struggling to reformulate products because buyers are used to the high levels of salt, sugar and fat in the foods they consume out of home. Eating out influences consumer preferences and the industry is not doing enough to make the food it serves healthier,” she said.
Dr Paul Berryman, chief executive at Leatherhead Food Research, said the industry was 'way behind' in making food healthier and communicating nutritional information to the consumer. But a spokesperson for the FSA admitted that it had been slow to engage the hospitality industry, and that progress had been impeded as a result.
“A lot of good work has been done in the retail sector. We now need the hospitality sector to change too, especially as one in six meals is now consumed out of home,” she said.
The FSA has been widely criticised by the hospitality industry for failing to produce clear guidelines on how to introduce nutritional information onto menus.
Yo! Sushi, the first UK restaurant chain to use nutritional labelling, introduced the then FSA-backed traffic light labelling scheme last year. But the FSA now looks likely to introduce a calorie-based system or the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) system, which is favoured and widely used by the retail sector.
Speaking at the event, Yo! Sushi business development director Alison Vickers expressed her frustration that her company had wasted time and money introducing a system that now looks outdated. She also questioned whether calorie counts had a place on restaurant menus at all.
“Restaurants are about a sense of fun and occasion, I’m not sure having the calorie count of what you’re eating thrust at you fits in with that,” she said.
The consultation period for nutritional labelling in the out of home sector ends this month, and a final report is due to be published this summer.
Last year 21 catering businesses signed up to a trial scheme with the FSA to display calorie information on menus, which restaurants and the FSA deemed a success.