Contract caterers have warned that plans to require businesses with more than 250 employees to display calories in menus could have unintended consequences, including stifling creativity.
The measure, which could also be extended to alcoholic drinks, was announced by the government yesterday as part of a wide-reaching crackdown on obesity intended to reduce the country's health risks to Covid-19 and ease the burden on the NHS.
Dan Kelly, deputy managing director and director of food and operations at Vacherin, told The Caterer: "Contract catering within the corporate sector is unique in that, unlike the high street multi-site food outlets, each individual site is likely to be serving a different menu on any given day. Each contract has its own Vacherin kitchen team on site, preparing menus for our clients' workforce that have been created to suit their tastes, their demographic, their working patterns and so on.
"As a boutique caterer we don't issue recipes centrally nor do we implement menu cycles; our chef teams have the autonomy to purchase their preferred ingredients for any given dish. We also encourage regular conversations between our chefs and suppliers to purchase seasonal ingredients, produce that is in abundance and fresh fruit and vegetables that for cosmetic reasons have been rejected by the supermarkets. The availability of these ingredients determine what our chefs will be cooking.
"This is why we believe that the calorie labelling of the entire menu, while wholly possible, is in-part impractical. It may quash the spontaneity and creativity of our chefs – and their autonomy to create menus that have been tried and tested for their own customer base."
Wendy Bartlett, founder, Bartlett Mitchell, said her business has also anticipated the government's move and had made preparations including implementing a system that allows teams to upload recipes detailing its provenance and nutritional data.
She added: "However, it is worth pointing out that this is incredibly difficult for businesses like ours, as we don't have formulaic or standardised menus. The process is far more straightforward for chains but not those who give their chefs freedom to be creative.
"The timing is clearly not ideal given the challenges the sector is facing, but we recognise that increased consumer interest has almost made this inevitable."
Kelly has encouraged the government to consider taking a more nuanced approach, considering the work the business and industry sector already does to provide nutritional information to diners, and to create meals suited to the needs of different sectors, environments and working patterns.
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