The Government is placing huge responsibility on the food industry to help improve public health with a new voluntary initiative. Sodexo is confident it will work.
Public health is everyones responsibility and there is a role for all of us, working in partnership, to tackle these challenges. We know that regulation is costly, can take years and is often only determined at an EU-wide level anyway. Thats why we have to introduce new ways of achieving better results.
So said Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, on launching his new way. Called the Responsibility Deal, it consists of a series of voluntary pledges from the food and drink industry to tackle todays big health issues. The pledges include targets on cutting salt, sugar and trans fats, the promotion of fruit and vegetables in staff restaurants and the introduction of calories on menus.
So far more than 170 companies and organisations have signed up to a varying range of pledges. One of them is Sodexo, which has made commitments in six areas, including out of home calorie labelling, salt reduction and the provision of healthier staff restaurants. The deal has been some months in the making, and much of it wont come as a surprise to those of us in foodservice, says Phil Hooper, Sodexo corporate affairs director. What is fresh, however, is the approach.
Regulation can often be a cumbersome way of doing things, but what this deal does is look at best practice and enables the industry to embrace it. Whats in the deal wont come as a shock to many of us, as weve been working in some of these areas for a long time, but there are certainly some challenges in there.
Calorie labelling on menus is certainly one of them a path which has been well-trodden by industry and regulators. Past attempts by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to push through change through voluntary agreements have, to date, failed. But Hooper says those dialogues were far from a waste of time. The FSA was, perhaps, slightly ahead of its time, but it has helped provide the sign-posting for the changes we need to make. Its not the easiest thing to do and it wont happen overnight you need to do analyses and ensure that you are prepared for different eventualities. There are costs to all this.
Those in the high street, with fixed menus, will have a more straightforward task. With menus often changing daily, contract caterers on the other hand, will have their work cut out. Still, the likes of Sodexo are not shying away from the challenges ahead. In fact, they cant. Our clients are demanding more information and action because they value the health of their work force, says Hooper. We even have one client who is one step ahead of calorie labelling already theyre rolling out Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) across their UK sites.
The provision of GDAs on menus is also contained within the collective health at work section of the Responsibility Deal (see box). It is part of a series of commitments to encourage healthier staff restaurants; also in there is the reformulation of some menus.
In all, the company has committed to half a dozen pledges, but Hooper admits they are fortunate to have the capacity, and the client base, to offer the kind of service required. The company also has a long history of raising awareness of the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet and placing its customers well-being at the heart of its business.
In 1985 Sodexo launched Healthwise, its nutrition, well-being and lifestyle philosophy that underpins all its food offers. Healthwise is part of the companys sustainability strategy, the Better Tomorrow Plan, which has been in place since 2009. Hooper is only too aware that this kind of initiative is a long way off for many smaller companies. The larger companies tend to be the ones signing up to the Responsibility Deal at the moment, so we have a responsibility to help pull the smaller companies along with us. That will take time, but Im confident well see things moving forward.
Of course, there is much more to the Deal than calorie labelling. There is plenty going on behind the scenes too, with ongoing efforts to reduce salt and sugar in food. Sodexo has committed to the salt targets for 2012, which will see salt reduced by 1g per person per day compared to 2007. Foodservice companies have been choice editing for consumers when it comes to salt, working with chefs to develop menus with less salt and removing salt pots from tables. Meeting the target will require some further technical developments and a re-think of some more menus, but its certainly achievable says Hooper.
Less so is the target for trans fats. Pledge F3 reads: We have already removed, or will remove, artificial trans fats from our products by the end of 2011.
Sodexo hasnt yet signed up to this. We had to look at this realistically, Hooper admits. Weve signed up for half a dozen pledges because there are some areas weve been working towards for some time, and others where weve been held back trans fats is one of those. We still have a few, very few in fact, products with trans fats, but were working on that. You cant do everything overnight.
Indeed, voluntary schemes take time, especially those with the breadth of the Responsibility Deal. The Government has described this as a radical partnership approach; Sodexo is keen to play its part, but the success of the Deal will require many more to do so too.
HEALTHIER STAFF RESTAURANTS
Among the most important and relevant pledges for Sodexo, and others in foodservice, is H4, in which companies pledge to implementing measures for encouraging healthier staff restaurants, including:
Ensuring the availability of healthier foods and beverages in all available channels to employees
Working with caterers to reformulate recipes to provide meals which are lower in fat, salt, and energy and which do not contain artificial trans fats
Provision of responsibly sized portions of foods
Provision and promotion of the consumption of fruit and vegetables through availability and price promotion
Provision of calories and/or Guideline Daily Amounts on menus per portion as a minimum (further nutrients optional)
Ensure that water is visible and freely available