THE GOVERNMENT'S Public Health Responsibility Deal is one year old, and campaigners believe it is failing. A report by Which? last week claimed that voluntary agreements do not work and is now calling for legislation on mandatory calorie labelling out of home. But what does the industry think? Is the initiative working? Is it, as the British Retail Consortium suggested, something to be proud of? Foodservice Footprint caught up with Sodexo corporate affairs director Phil Hooper for his views.
Foodservice Footprint (FF): It's been a year since the deal was launched, and Which? is suggesting the time has been wasted. What are your thoughts on Which?'s assessment?
Phil Hooper (PH): To quote the Health Secretary, public health is everyones responsibility and there is a role for all of us, working in partnership, to tackle these challenges.
What we have to remind ourselves is that the Public Health Responsibility Deal is a large scale voluntary initiative, and as with any new initiative, sufficient time is required before we can start identifying key results and successes.
We should also remember that the Responsibility Deal is a significant step towards building the foundations for a healthier nation, which places the onus on foodservice companies to play their part in helping the government to tackle issues like obesity, inactiveness and overall poor health and wellbeing.
The Which? assessment reassuringly points out that some good progress has been made on companies committing to reduce salt in their food. Indeed, within our company we are not complacent and are constantly reviewing where we can make changes to help staff, customers and consumers to make the right choice for a better lifestyle.
FF: In the Which? report, it is the restaurant chains that have been targeted, with the catering companies left largely unscathed. Is this lucky, or has progress among caterers been more impressive?
PH: Weve been working with the Government for some years so the content of the deal wasnt a shock to us. But of course, there are challenges.
A few years ago, the Food Standards Agency was perhaps slightly ahead of its time by launching the calorie labelling pilot. However, it provided the sign-posting for the changes we needed to make.
Making large scale changes to the way we procure food to how we prepare, cook and serve it, doesnt just happen overnight as it isnt always such an easy change to make you need to do analysis and ensure that you are prepared for different eventualities.
As a major foodservice company, we are contributing wherever we can, whether thats through our commitment to calorie labelling, improving physical activity at work by making various exercise clubs available, or by consistently training and educating our chefs to cook using healthier methods and alternatives.
FF: What parts of the Deal did Sodexo sign up for and what progress has been made in the past 12 months? What difference has any of these changes made?
PH: Sodexo signed up to six pledges last year, including out of home calorie labelling, salt reduction, physical activity in the workplace, occupational health standards, health & wellbeing and healthier staff restaurants.
We are making encouraging strides to achieve our goals for each of the pledges. For example, we now have more than a hundred client sites including Sodexo offices that display calorie information. We have also had a great year helping staff get fit (www.sodexo-healthwise.co.uk) and healthy through making available various physical activity schemes such as lunchtime and after work running and walking clubs, zumba and boxercise classes, and arranging five-a-side football.
FF: What are the challenges you have faced? Calorie labelling, for instance, is something that the Government and the likes of Which? are very keen on. But does it make business sense? And do people want calorie labels on their out of home food?
PH: Sodexo has invested heavily in time and resources to upgrade its recipe system which now uses enhanced nutritional analysis software, enabling chefs and their on-site teams to provide calorie and GDA information to staff, customers and clients.
In August 2011, Sodexo announced the re-launch of its entire Delifresh range its own brand of sandwiches to include calorie labelling and GDA information with a traffic light system that reinforces the nutritional value.
Consumers are more aware and interested to find out about the nutritional content of what they eat and providing consumers with as much information as possible is very important as it gives people the opportunity to make informed decisions about eating a healthy diet and leading a balanced lifestyle.
FF: How has the rest of the foodservice sector performed?
PH: Overall, the foodservices sector has started to embrace the various pledges within the Responsibility Deal. There is no doubt that the larger companies such as Sodexo and Compass were early adopters albeit smaller companies in comparison such as 7 Day Catering were again in at the start.
Over the past few months, a number of other foodservices companies have now started to get involved.
FF: In 12 months' time, do you think the Responsibility Deal still be in place?
PH: Although it has just been a year since the Government launched the Deal, we have seen some promising results coming out of the foodservice industry. And like all things new, and certainly with voluntary schemes with the extensiveness of this Deal, sufficient time for proper analysis and success is crucial.
Foodservice companies and industry bodies must continue to support each other as the Responsibility Deal provides a real opportunity to do something great that has the huge potential of positively affecting public health.