Food for thought: the introduction of calorie labelling
23 May 2022
The government has introduced new regulations that mean cafes, restaurants, takeaways and other food businesses with over 250 employees must display the calorie content of their food on menus. The new rules are part of the government’s wider strategy to decrease levels of obesity and improve general health across the UK.
The Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021 (the Regulations) came into force on 6 April 2022. The changes will affect large food businesses, defined as a business with more than 250 employees in the “out of home” food sector.
For many years, pre-packaged food found in-store has stated the calorie content of the food inside. Now, the Regulations will mean that any non-pre-packaged food, widely understood as food that is prepared and suitable for immediate consumption, must be labelled with its calorie content. This includes both food available to eat-in at a restaurant and food available to order or take-away.
The Regulations mandate that the calorie content is displayed at the “point of choice”. Examples include a hard copy or online menu or a food display. The labelling must include:
- the energy content in Kcal;
- the size of the portion to which said calorie content pertains; and
- the statement that “Adults need around 2000 kcal a day”.
Is my business impacted?
Under the Regulations, if your organisation has over 250 employees, then it is defined as “large” and must implement the changes set out to its menus. It is important to note that any part-time employee is included in the headcount. This figure will catch many larger food providers and chains, but should mean that many independent businesses are unaffected (for the meantime, at least).
In addition to traditional restaurants, cafes and takeaways, the Regulations also extend to large home delivery, domestic transport (i.e. trains) and contract catering businesses (and more).
Some establishments that undertake mass catering (.for example, educational institutions for adults, prisons, care homes and workplace canteens) are exempt from the changes, as long as their own “in-house” catering team provides the food. This exemption does not apply if catering is contracted out to an organisation which itself has more than 250 employees.
With regard to franchises, each franchisee will be included as part of the entire headcount within the franchised network. Many pub franchises may be exempt as the Regulations do not apply where a franchise agreement is limited to alcohol only and the franchisee has discretion over what food is offered at its particular franchise. In such circumstances, each franchise is to be treated as a separate business.
If a business frequently changes a menu, for example, a seasonal or special menu, it may be concerned about the administrative burden and production cost of regularly producing new menus to display calorie content. However, food that is on the menu for less than 30 consecutive days (and less than a total of 30 days in any year) is exempt from the Regulations.
Whilst the government’s aim by introducing the Regulations is to aid consumers in making healthier choices, eating well is often not as simple as just looking at calorie content. Good nutrition is a much deeper subject, and large businesses may wish to take the regulations one-step further by including the full nutritional value of their food on the menu (or providing a supplemental menu upon request). This may assist in allowing consumers to make a more informed choice.
There are concerns that the Regulations may have a negative impact on consumers’ mental health, especially those who are suffering from, or have recovered from an eating disorder. If a business is defined as “large” under the Regulations, it should endeavour not to dispose of all old menus without calorie information included as some consumers may wish to request a copy that does not display calorie content, to avoid triggering any eating disorder.
Where businesses are concerned about consumers being deterred from items on the menu that have a higher calorie content, they may wish to consider altering the ingredients list, or offering an alternative with a reduced portion size and/or reduced salt and sugar ingredients. If possible, frying practices can be reviewed to see if a lower-fat alternative is viable.
These Regulations are the government’s latest attempt to promote healthy eating amongst the broader population through legislative change. It is too early to assess their long-term effectiveness but hospitality businesses small and large will no doubt be impacted by the additional administrative burden.
It is also worth noting that at the time of writing this article, the Government has announced a delay on introducing bans on multi-buy deals for junk food. The back drop of rising costs of living is impacting the Government policy. However, the trend is clear which provides an opportunity for food producers to develop healthier products regardless of the regulatory backdrop.
If you would like to discuss this article and/or food supply regulations please contact Ed Savory or any member of the Food Sector team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2022.