Down for the count? Calorie labelling comes into force

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mandatory calorie labelling comes into force for restaurants employing 250 staff or more

Related tags: Calorie labelling, Casual dining, Fine dining

Diners will see the calorie content of dishes on menus from today as calorie labelling for businesses that employ 250 or more staff comes into force in England.

Under the rules venues must display calorie counts ‘clearly and prominently’ at the point of choice – typically a menu – along with the statement that ‘adults need around 2,000 kcal a day’.

Non-alcoholic drinks must be calorie counted if they aren’t served in or alongside their original packaging but alcoholic drinks (defined as anything over 1.2% abv) are exempt. 

The new rules will be enforced by local authorities, which have been mandated by the Government to take a ‘supportive, educational approach in the first instance’.

Businesses that fail to comply could be hit with a civil sanction of £2,500 as an alternative to criminal prosecution but those that continue to four the rules could eventually face criminal proceedings.  

In general the industry is not happy about Government intervention into this area​ with the biggest bugbears including the cost of implementation and the timing of the legislation as the industry recovers from the pandemic. 

UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls has described the legislation as a “slap in the face”. 

“A well-intentioned targeting of child obesity is at risk of evolving into an interventionist approach that heaps burdens on hospitality businesses just when they are at their most vulnerable and fighting for survival,” she continues. 

“Menu labelling could cost as much as £40,000 per menu run for some businesses, disincentivising such innovative and sustainable approaches, and stifling the efforts to offer exciting and healthy meals to customers.”

Chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association Emma McClarkin says: “Of course, the health and wellbeing of customers is front of mind for our sector, especially after the past two years, but since being announced there has not been sufficient time or guidance given to help businesses prepare for the changes to menus.”

“After the pandemic pubs are already under extreme pressure.  Energy costs are sharply rising, there is uncertainty in the supply chain and VAT has been increased. These new calorie labelling requirements layer on an extra burden and costs at an already difficult time.

According to research commissioned by technology company Vita Mojo, consumers are more likely to be in favour of the new rules with 68% of those surveyed seeing the legislation as a ‘good’ move. 

Nearly half of respondents (48%) actively keep track or have awareness of the calories that they consume (15% to a great extent and 33% to some extent). 

A low proportion of consumers (21%) think that the legislation will have a positive effect on the nation’s obesity levels, however. 

Who’s counting? 

A cursory look around the internet reveals that many larger restaurant businesses have yet to put calorie labelling in place, at least not on online menus. With this clearly set out as a requirement of the legislation - calorie information must appear at the ‘point of choice’ for consumers - it seems restaurant groups aren’t overly concerned about early action from local authorities.

Rumours of an enforcement moratorium as well as a government mandate for councils to take a ‘supportive, educational approach in the first instance’ looks to have contributed to the rather lax approach the wider sector has taken so far. But a number of groups have now gone live with calorie information on website menus for the first time, including Caravan, Dishoom and Côte.  

Though many in the industry view calories as a rather blunt tool for assessing the nutritional content of food, the rollout of calorie labelling does highlight that they can be useful when it comes to identifying dishes with so-called hidden calories. 

Most would be surprised to find that Dishoom’s fairly light sounding kala and chana (greens and chickpea) salad is in fact significantly more calorific than the Indian restaurant group’s famed cream-and-butter-laced black dahl (the former is 700kcal while the latter is 455kcal). And who would have thought that Caravan’s steel cut oat porridge with dates, black sesame and tahini is more calorific than its vanilla pancakes, lemon curd cream cheese, poached rhubarb and pumpkin-sumac praline? 

While the long term effect of the legislation remains to be seen, calorie labelling appears to already be having an effect on menu development with a number of groups announcing shake ups of their food offering ahead of the rules coming into force. 

And what of fine dining? D&D London has put all of its newly calorie counted menus online and - it turns out - they largely make for encouraging reading. Taking Manchester's 20 Stories as an example, starters range from 148kcal to 617kcal and mains start at 429kcal topping out at 711kcal for a duck breast with caramelised celeriac, glazed chicory and spiced duck jus. 

While the 2,000 calorie 'limit' could reached and breached in a single three course meal - especially if drinks are factored in - one would have to try pretty hard. And at Angler - D&D London's Michelin-starred fish restaurant in The City, it's possible to have a three course meal for well under 1,000 calories if one picks the lighter dishes, in this case crab with avocado, wasabi and finger lime; roast cod with caramelised parsley root, line caught squid and Alsace bacon; and a trio of fruit sorbets. 

The group's Alpine-themed Haugen restaurant in Stratford hasn't fared quite so well, however, with its tartiflette tipping the metaphorical scales at a mighty 1,600 kcal.

Related topics: Business & Legislation

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