FOODSERVICE OPERATORS are concerned about inconsistencies when it comes to nutritional labelling on menus. Footprint is therefore working with industry leaders and government on how to adapt the Responsibility Deal pledge.
When it comes to healthier choices, customers want consistency. Clearer labelling both on packs and on menus should be seen as a priority. But that isn’t always easy. Consider how long it’s taken to agree on a standardised nutritional labelling scheme for packaged products and it’s easy to see why foodservice companies are concerned about sprinkling information over their menus.
As part of the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, caterers and restaurants are being encouraged to add calorie counts to menus. High street chains have lapped the idea up, with 70% having adopted the measure. But what about smaller restaurants with ever-changing menus? Or caterers with a plethora of sites, each with different chefs and staff and non-standardised meals?
As one industry leader pointed out at May’s Footprint Roundtable (see May Footprint, p14): “The challenge is that all our products are made fresh in different kitchens around the country, and while we can give guidance on ingredients, some members of the cooking team will use more seasoning than others, so all products will be slightly different.”
This fear of inaccuracy and inconsistency when labelling meals with salt, fat, sugar or calorie contents was again in evidence at the second roundtable of the Footprint Health & Vitality Special Interest Group in July. Representatives from some of the best- known names in foodservice attended, as well as Susan Jebb, chair of the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal Food Network.
Jebb urged the group not to be shackled by the deal’s commitments. “I would urge foodservice operators not to see the pledges as a straitjacket,” she explained. “If the current labelling pledges are hard to implement in the varied and creative menus you offer, let’s think of other ways to signpost consumers to healthier choices. Unleash your own creativity in your quest to move the nutrition, health and wellness agenda on.”
Calorie labelling is certainly an area where more creative thinking will be needed. The group discussed alternatives such as a coding system or sub-500 calorie sections on menus. However, all agreed that the most important outcome – no matter the approach – is to provide consumers with clear, consistent information to help them make healthy choices. This can’t be done with the current one-size-fits-all calorie labelling pledges within the responsibility deal. The group is therefore starting work on a new pledge proposal for Jebb’s team, specific to the foodservice sector.
The group also covered the frustratingly stagnant consumption of fruit and vegetables. The Department of Health believed this would be a “quick win” on health thanks to the simple five-a-day message, but only 25% of the UK population achieve this target. It is the same across western Europe and the US, with fruit and veg consumption declining over the past decade, according to a study published by Rabobank in July. The analysis found a “common misconception” that unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food; yet between 2006 and 2011, average consumer prices for fruit and vegetables in the EU and US increased less than overall food prices. Clever marketing can easily sway consumers towards processed products, it seems.
So what can foodservice companies do? One option is to make vegetables a pivotal part of the meal – something also being considered as part of the “eat less but better meat” campaign (see page 34 and Footprint June, p16). Making vegetarian options more mainstream could also help, as well as the promotion of seasonal options. The group is now seeking to compile examples of successful initiatives.
If you would like to be involved in this special interest group, contact events@footprint- forum.com The Health & Vitality Special Interest Group reconvened 17th October 2013. Report to be published soon. Health & Vitality Honours submission deadline 9th November.