Professional Comment

How Calorie Labelling Legislation Is Going To Impact Health And Hospitality

New legislation for large businesses such as takeaways, restaurants, and cafes became effective in the United Kingdom, just a day ahead of World Health Day. It requires calorie information to be displayed on menus, online menus, third-party apps, food delivery platforms, and food labels.

The legislation aimed to tackle obesity also requires the seller to put daily recommended calorie needs. The idea behind the rule is to make people more informed and go for healthier choices when they are eating out or ordering food from outside.

World Health Day is celebrated every year on 7th of April to draw people’s attention to a specific health topic of concern. This year the theme was ‘Our plant our health’. The Covid-19 pandemic has become a guiding force for mankind, it revealed not only the persisting inequities in the society but also highlighted the weaknesses in all areas of society and an urgency to make the society sustainable, which vows to achieve equitable health.

What prompted the government’s decision on calorie labelling?
Obesity was one of the key health concerns that emerged during the pandemic and tackling this health crisis became the major aim of the government. It has been said by health experts that type 2 diabetes is prompted by obesity. Not only health but finances are also getting impacted due to obesity, government’s estimation states that the nation’s overweight and obesity-related conditions cost the National Health Service (NHS) £6.1 billion each year. The huge sum invested in the public healthcare system due to obesity could have been used for various other welfare and economic development purposes.

The government in its drive to level up the health of the nation mandated to display of calorie information on non-prepacked food and soft drinks. The new changes, which became effective on 6 April 2022, were approved by Parliament in 2021, making it mandatory for the large food businesses employing more than 250 people to display calorie information.

How are businesses coping?
For many large businesses, it hasn’t come as a surprise as they have been following it for a long, firms like McDonald’s have been doing it for decades, but now others will also have to follow the rule religiously.

Hospitality businesses will have to label food with its product name and provide a full list of ingredients and calorie information on menus, food labels, online menus, food delivery platforms as well as third-party apps. The other measure included in the legislation that could impact the hospitality business is a ban on free refills of sugary soft drinks in restaurants and bars this year, which used to be a major lure for many venues. Also, before 9 pm there won’t be any adverts for junk food.

The government has released guidelines, FAQs, and pictorial samples for displaying calorie information per portion basis. Still, there are many challenges that businesses are facing. First, there is confusion on printing requirements, how to go and what would suit, a pre-printed label or a sticky label and how to update them frequently based on the changes in menu ingredients.

The legislation also includes a provision for customers to ask for a menu that does not contain calorie counts if they are finding it difficult to go by the detailed information on calories. It doubles the task of the businesses to prepare both kinds of menus. As per UKHospitality estimates, the legislation could put an additional burden of £40,000 per menu run for the hospitality businesses.

A robust system is required to monitor everything, not only the menus but chefs using the right amount of ingredients they use every day and then putting it accordingly, based on per-portion is undoubtedly going to increase the cost of the businesses.

Is it the right decision at the wrong time?
UK hospitality sector is in shambles and trying hard to recover from the pandemic blues, at this juncture introduction of something that can increase their financial burden can prove detrimental. The complicated and costly new labelling system could have been delayed for some time, at least until businesses could have managed other pressing demands for their recovery.

There are other thoughts against the new system as well, the UK’s eating disorder charity has said that the system of mandatorily labelling calories could lead to harmful eating disorder thoughts and behaviours.

Obesity can have a severe impact on people’s health. It is the second biggest cause of cancer across the UK and needs to be taken care of, but the industry getting impacted most, also needs due consideration to be a part of this noble mission.