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The Government’s calorie labelling initiative has come at the ‘worst possible time’ for an industry struggling to recover from the pandemic, experts have warned.
The new legislation means businesses with 250 or more employees in England, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways, must display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drinks.
Calories have to be displayed at the point of choice, including on physical and online menus and on food delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Deliveroo.
But restaurant bosses and campaigners have slammed the timing of the new rules, arguing it will put pressure on an already struggling sector that was hammered by Covid lockdowns and restrictions.
UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘The hospitality industry is working hard to ensure it is prepared and able to comply with the new regulations, but they come at the worst possible time for thousands of businesses struggling to survive.
‘We’ve long called for a delay to the implementation of calorie labelling, and we’d like to see a ‘grace period’ post-April to allow businesses breathing space in which to implement the new rules without the risk of unnecessary enforcement action from day one.
Pictured: Kate Nicholls, head of UK Hospitality, has said the new legislation comes at the worst possible time for the hospitality sector which is struggling to recover from the pandemic
Campaigners think the calorie labelling will put diners off ordering their favourite dishes
‘It’s completely unfair to expect businesses devastated by Covid to all of a sudden introduce complicated and costly new labelling when they’ve much more pressing matters to attend to – recouping their losses of the past 24-months for a start.
‘So we believe a period of at least six months with light touch enforcement and dialogue to ensure smooth implementation is required, enabling hard-pressed operators to get to grips with the legislation, and to ensure they’re not unduly punished should they fall foul of the new rules, particularly when they’re only just starting out on the road to recovery.’
Meanwhile, Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, told GB News the legislation would add financial pressure on pubs after the pandemic.
She said: ‘We’re committed to helping customers make healthy choices, but this is adding extra burden to businesses, at extreme cost, at a time when we’re trying to recover from the pandemic.
‘We’re already seeing energy costs soaring so this is a really untimely added burden from the Government.’
Ms McClarkin told the outlet that the introduction of calorie labelling had had ‘mixed reviews’ from customers because most ‘just want to come in, have a treat and not feel guilty about it’.
Pictured: Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the new legislation around calorie labelling on menus would add financial pressure on pubs after the pandemic
Calories have to be displayed at the point of choice, including on physical and online menus
She also added that it will be difficult for restaurants and pubs to offer seasonal menus under the new law because of the requirement to calculate and then display calories which would mean added costs with frequent menu changes.
The restaurant group run by brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin criticised the legislation as an added expense to businesses and said the Government’s money would be better spent elsewhere.
A spokesman for Galvin restaurants told Mail Online: ‘We have no doubt that encouraging people to make balanced choices when they choose what they eat is important, and the right thing to do.
‘But calories aren’t the full picture, many nutritionally dense foods are high in calories, and many foods that have less nutritional value are low in calories.
The new legislation doesn’t apply to all restaurants, only to businesses with more than 250 employees.
‘The average restaurant guest may not know that, so it’s another thing which we will need to communicate to our guests.
‘For operators who do need to list calories, there is now another expense to factor in, which will eventually be passed onto their guests inflating the cost of dining out further.
‘Perhaps all this money and attention that is being pumped into calorie legislation would be better spent on early years and childhood education about the benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Menu at pizza chain Franco Manco shows calories listed next to each item, in line with new law
‘Restaurants, after all, are a ‘treat’ for most people, and not where most people eat three meals a day, seven days a week.’
The law was brought in to help reduce the estimated £1.6bn spent by the NHS on fighting obesity each year, but it has been criticised for failing to focus on other important metrics, including fibre and nutrient content and the difference between good and bad calories.
The Pho group, which operates Vietnamese cafes, said was not the place of restaurants to educate customers on food nutrition and have hired nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert to ensure they are providing the full picture and not just focusing on calories.
Jules Wall, co-founder, Pho says:3 ‘Dining out is about enjoying tasty food, great company and a little of what you fancy, and that needs to remain everyone’s focus.
‘Our goal is to be a trustworthy place to dine every day of the week without needing to be concerned with calories – so in partnering with Rhiannon, our aim is to help our teams and our customers understand a bit more about nutrition, and allow them to focus on the fun of dining out.’
The company, which has been sharing nutritional information online since 2013, added: ‘The publishing of calories on our menus has come at an additional cost which was probably less of a pain for us than others in the industry.
‘It seems unnecessary at a time when hospitality is just coming back to life but equally we understand the need for people to live happily and healthy post-pandemic.’
Pho’s nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert agreed that the calorie label should not dictate a diner’s gauge of how nutritious a meal is.
Ms Lambert says: ‘It is important to remember that calories are not everything when it comes to the food we consume.
‘A number displayed on a menu certainly does not dictate how healthy you are or the quality of your nutrition.
‘What these figures do not take into account is people’s age, size, or physical activity levels, which can greatly influence the amount of calories a person consumes in a day.’
Ranjit Mathrani, CEO of restaurant MW Eat, told Big Hospitality that the industry had ‘great reluctance’ to go along with the new rules.
He said: ‘Operators regard it as unnecessary. They are irritated by it..
Mr Mathrani told the magazine that it would especially impact medium-sized hospitality businesses, adding: ‘They won’t necessarily have the right structures in place to absorb the costs.
‘Huge companies such as McDonald’s and KFC have nutritionists on their payroll. Implementation will also be more challenging for less standardised businesses that cook from scratch.’
It comes as top chef Nick Nairn has called for small independent restaurants to be exempt from plans to introduce calorie counts on menus in Scotland.
Nairn raised his concerns over the Scottish Government’s plan to introduce similar calorie amounts on restaurant and cafe menus in a bid to tackle obesity.
Speaking to the BBC, Nairn said: ‘I think it’s an entirely reasonable thing to do for chain restaurants and fast food joints where the menu doesn’t change very often.
‘However for my sector, the smaller, independent sector, we change our menu regularly, sometimes even twice a day.
‘It is totally impracticable for us to be able to analyse every dish and put it on the menu.
‘It just wouldn’t work for the smaller sector. If I come up with a dish at 11am and put it on as a lunch special, how am I going to get a calorie count for that dish? It needs to go away to a lab and be analysed.’
Nairn added: ‘I got a phone call this morning from my game guy and he said ‘pigeon is good today’. So I asked for 12 pigeons and I’m going to take the breasts off and do a pigeon salad.
‘That’s reacting to what’s available for the market. I don’t have the time or the resources to make a calorie count on that dish.’