Calorie labelling ‘out of home’ kickstarts in UK as sector calls for ‘grace period’: ‘The new regulations have come at the worst possible time’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

From today (6 April 2022), England’s out of home sector is required to comply with new regulations concerning calorie labelling. GettyImages/Raphye Alexius
From today (6 April 2022), England’s out of home sector is required to comply with new regulations concerning calorie labelling. GettyImages/Raphye Alexius

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UK calorie labelling for food and drink in restaurants, takeaways, deli counters and other ‘out of home’ settings come into force today. Is the hospitality sector ready?

From today (6 April 2022), England’s out of home sector is required to comply with new regulations concerning calorie labelling.

Businesses with 250 or more employees are now required to provide calorie labelling for ‘non-prepackaged’ foods, which are sold in a form suitable for ‘immediate consumption’, served on site to customers in restaurants, cafes, pubs, workplaces and canteens.

Meals and other foods sold for consumption off-site, from shops, delicatessens, sandwich bars and takeaways, also fall under the new legislation, as do ‘distance sales’ conducted over the internet or phone in the ‘out of home’ sector.

It has been suggested such legislation will likely lead to foodservice and retail businesses demanding more nutrition information from their suppliers and could encourage shifts towards lower calorie alternatives.

What are the key challenges for businesses?

Implementation guidance has been released to help businesses adhere to the new legislation.

From the government, published guidance includes pictorial examples of how calorie information should be given on a ‘per portion’ basis for various settings. The Association of Convenience Stores released guidance earlier this year aimed at retailers, and UK Hospitality has set up a FAQ page dedicated to the regulations.

Despite additional guidance offered to businesses, operators are still trying to understand certain areas within the legislation, facing challenges around interpretation when applying the new laws in practice, according to Squire Patton Boggs.

Last month, Director Nicola Smith from Squire Patton Boggs’ Birmingham office noted that operators were unclear about the calculation of employee numbers for the purposes of determining businesses which are exempt.

The definitions of exempt food were also obscure for some, as was the application of the regulations to drinks, as well as food products.

Further, the requirement to give information in portion sizes, which may not be straightforward for meals or products which are not pre-portioned, for example, meals served from a hot plate, or dishes from which customers help themselves, was also a point of contention, suggested Smith.

“The guidance is not particularly clear in relation to a number of aspects when applied to the circumstances of many businesses,” ​she continued.

Call for ‘light touch enforcement’ from hospitality sector

Is England’s ‘out of home’ sector ready for this new legislation? According to UKHospitality, which represents around 740 business across the UK, including pubs, restaurants, hotels, and contract catering operators, the hospitality industry is ‘working hard’ to ensure it is prepared and able to comply with the new regulations.

However, for UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls, the new laws have come at the ‘worst possible time’ for thousands of businesses ‘struggling to survive’.

The industry association has ‘long called’ for a delay to the implementation of calorie labelling, and would like to see a ‘grace period’ post-April to allow businesses ‘breathing space’ in which to implement the new rules with the risk of ‘unnecessary’ enforcement action from day one.

“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,” ​she told FoodNavigator.

UKHospitality believes a period of ‘at least’ six months, with a ‘light enforcement’ and dialogue to ensure smooth implementation is required. This, Nicholls continued, would enable ‘hard-pressed’ operators to get to grips with the new legislation and 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”.

The consumer perspective

What do consumers think about all this? Do they want to see calorie information on menus when consuming food and drinks ‘out of home’?

According to 2021 data from Lumina Intelligence – a market insight provider owned by FoodNavigator publisher William Reed – 50% of consumers in the UK find calorie information on menus useful.

A total of 46% appreciate it when menus offer a lower calorie version of a signature dish.

It has been estimated that more than one million consumers, however, oppose the new laws. No public health policy is a ‘one size fits all’ approach, stressed Johanna Bolinder, Head of Health & Sustainability at food search and discovery platform Spoon Guru.

Bolinder is also a Registered Associate Nutritionist a the Association for Nutrition (AfN).

“The UK has 1.25m people suffering from eating disorders that oppose this legislation Calorie labelling is not an exact science and does not represent other areas of food choice such as taste, cost, cultural preference, nutritional quality of a meal and this should be understood,” ​he said.

“The UK Government has compassion for this limiting aspect of the legislation and allows menus to be presented without calorie labelling if requested.”

It is not the first time UK consumers will see calories listed on food and drink menus in the ‘out of home’ sector. In August 2021, Uber Eats launched an in-app feature which lists calorie counts next to menu options. Leon, Pizza Hut, and Burger King were the first vendors to trial the feature.

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