Menu calorie counts to be introduced in the UK

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 16th January 2009

Following the example of New York City and the state of California, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is launching the first phase of its plan to introduce nutrition information in a range of catering outlets. The FSA is wanting to see more consistent nutrition information for consumers at the point they make a decision about what they eat out of home and announced that the first step will be the introduction of calorie labelling.

A similar plan may be unveiled in Australia later this year, when the Federal Government announces their new health plan.

The FSA is talking to a range of restaurants and fast food chains that will act as early adopters to introduce calorie labelling in the British summer. This activity will see calorie information provided on menus and other materials available at the point of sale.

Restaurant menu

The decision was reportedly based on consumer research carried out for the FSA. Through a series of focus groups, consumers were presented with examples of existing nutrition information made available by some restaurants, pubs, sandwich shops and other food outlets. The research looked at people’s awareness and experience of using this information and which elements they found most useful in helping them to make healthier choices when eating out. The research revealed that:

* There are consumers already using nutrition information where it is available in restaurants, pubs and coffee-shops to make healthier choices.
* Generally, consumers are happy to have the information, saying that it is their choice to use it or not.
* Many consumers made it clear that simplicity is key – they want to see clear and easy-to-use information at the point they choose what to eat. They do not want to have to ask for it or for it to only be provided on the company’s website.
* As nutrition information already exists in shops and supermarkets, participants felt that having similar information when eating out was an obvious next step.

A survey in New York last year by food industry consultants Technomic indicated 86 per cent thought calorie counts on menus were a positive move. The idea was initially met with concern by the restaurant industry but has slowly gathered support in the sector, with the major industry body now behind a scheme to introduce consistent labelling requirements for chain restaurants throughout the whole country.

“We’re used to seeing nutrition information when we’re shopping and there is no compelling reason why we shouldn’t have more consistent information about nutrition when we eat out,” FSA chief executive, Tim Smith, said. “The Agency is keen to work closely with industry to see, as a first step, how calorie information can be provided in a clear, effective and simple manner across a range of catering settings.”