Are mandatory calorie counts on the way for UK hospitality businesses?

Written by: Andrew Levey

Are mandatory calorie counts on the way for UK hospitality businesses?
The US has been working on introducing mandatory publication of calorie information on menus for a good few years, as part of a drive to tackle obesity by making it easier for diners to make healthy choices. And now it seems the Government in the UK are looking to introduce something similar.

In fact, just at the end of last month the Government launched chapter two of its plan to tackle childhood obesity in the UK, which includes proposed guidelines for consistent calorie labelling for restaurants, cafes and takeaways. And while the publication does reference undertaking a consultation on these proposals before the end of the year, the wording suggests that this will be a consultation on the best way to implement calorie labelling, rather than on the proposals overall.

Legislation aside, with more and more restaurants already providing nutritional information via websites or apps, it’s becoming something that consumers expect to see. A recent poll for Diabetes UK found that three-quarters of the public think all cafes, restaurants and takeaway outlets should display calorie information on their menus. So it makes sense to deliver this information to make sure you’re not missing out on potential customers who might go elsewhere to be sure of a healthy meal.

The exact requirements of any legislation in the UK obviously won’t be known until the consultation is complete, but from the wording in chapter two the intention seems similar to the requirements in the US. While the document acknowledges that many businesses already provide nutritional information on websites, the focus is on providing information at the point of choice – printed menus and menu boards.

Apart from the challenges of getting accurate nutritional information and providing this on menus, there is also concern that it would make the creation of ‘specials’ or incorporating seasonal ingredients into menus increasingly difficult with the cost of reprinting or updating menus - something the ALMR highlighted in its response to the release of chapter two.

So if legislation is indeed on the horizon for the UK, how can you easily and cost-effectively provide this information while still allowing space for creativity? And the key lies in technology and automation.

With the right systems in place, nutritional data can be downloaded from globally-recognised databases like McCance & Widdowson and the US Department of Agriculture. This avoids lab costs and consultancy fees, and ensures accurate data is being used at all times.

With nutritional information now being a part of your master product data, calculating the nutritional content of recipes becomes automated. As Chefs build and develop recipes, the nutritional data automatically flows through from individual ingredients to provide an accurate calculation for the overall recipe. You can even have traffic light indicators to show when recipes have become too high in calories, saturated fat or salt.

With this information readily available, it becomes easier to engineer recipes to attract customers looking for healthier options, and automatically provides the nutritional data for specials or recipes using seasonal ingredients as the recipe is being built.

Automation also means you can drastically reduce the cost and administration of updating menus throughout the year, with data updated on websites, apps, digital displays, tills and more at the touch of a button while the same information can be used to easily update templates for printed menus. For websites and apps it’s also easy to add interaction, allowing customers to filter items to create a personalised dining experience based on their nutritional or allergen requirements.

By taking away the manual administration of calculating nutritional information and publishing your menus, you can be ahead of the game for any legislation that might be introduced and continue being innovative with your menus. What’s more, you can also ensure you're properly engineering your recipes and menus to be as profitable as possible, and attract customers looking for healthier options.

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