UKHospitality has hit out at an attempt by the Department of Health to make restaurants and cafe display calorie counts on menus following reports that the government is preparing the launch of a consultation on its proposal. The initiative is part of government plans to cut childhood obesity by 2030.
“Mandatory calorie labelling could have a significant impact on the hospitality sector, particularly smaller businesses that would struggle to cope with the huge burden of a one-size-fits-all approach,” says UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls.
“The knock-on effect would almost certainly mean prices go up and investment in businesses goes down. A blanket introduction of inflexible calorie labelling would represent a serious additional cost for businesses already facing tightening margins and economic instability. It would also represent a considerable burden for those venues that change their menus regularly, some on a daily basis, to incorporate locally sourced produce, seasonal ingredients and specials.”
Nicholls says the trade body is supportive of efforts to promote healthier eating habits and that the industry is already taking decisive action to reformulate menus to reduce calories help customers make more informed choices about what they eat.
“Many larger venues already include calorie content on their menus voluntarily, with many high street brands providing customers with unprecedented level of information. But even larger businesses, operating numerous distinct brands, rely on the flexibility provided by voluntary labelling.”
In 2010 brands including KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut trialled putting calorie information on menus as part of a Food Standards Agency campaign, but the majority decided not to extend the scheme. Restaurant groups including The Real Greek and JD Wetherspoon do publish calorie counts on menus.
Earlier this year KFC UK & Ireland pledged to reduce the amount of calories per serving in its meals by 20% by 2025. The fried chicken chain will trial a new vegetarian option and focus on creating lighter meals under 600 calories in line with Public Health England (PHE) recommendations.
UKHospitality says that forcing restaurants to display calorie counts on menus could hamper green initiatives in the industry. “There is also a serious potential that mandatory calorie labelling would undermine businesses’ efforts to tackle food waste which is a growing concern for consumers and an area of innovation for businesses,” says Nicholls.
The rules, which will apply to restaurants and cafes and fast-food outlets, could be unveiled by the Department of Health within days, according to the Daily Telegraph.