With a national focus on health, ever more operators are signing up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal and volunteering nutritional information. Glynn Davis reports on the help available to make menu labelling a reality
After much consultation and deliberation between caterers and the Food Standards Agency over the growing issue of healthy eating, the food industry now has a voluntary mechanism, the Responsibility Deal, that organisations can sign up to.
It consists of three pledges that commit the food service operator or high street chain to reduce salt, eliminate trans-fats, and introduce calorie labelling on to food packaging and menus. It is up to each operator to decide which, if any, of the pledges they choose to put their name to.
It is currently a voluntary code but the widespread expectation is that ultimately there will be legislation imposed, which is prompting many organisations to get involved at this early stage. Caroline Fry, managing director of CH&Co, says: "We're thinking it is best to dictate how we achieve healthier eating rather than the government dictating it to us. This is important because one size does not fit all."
This is a key point because while it might be relatively easy for Pret A Manger and Subway to act on the pledges for their unchanging core ranges, Fry says it is much tougher for the likes of CH&Co with its great variety of restaurants to label up the calories on its menus as the dishes frequently change.
Of the three pledges it is the calorie labelling of dishes that is being initially signed up to by many food service companies and restaurant chains. CH&Co is to shortly introduce calories on to its core ranges via placement on menus/packaging and it is the same at Compass Group - although it is providing further nutritional information such as GDAs (Guideline Daily Amounts).
Harvester Group has also been pro-active and is the first UK-wide restaurant brand to print dish-by-dish calorie information on the menus of its outlets. Adam Martin, marketing and strategy director for parent company Mitchells & Butlers, says: "How this information is used and what affect it has is down to the individual, but we recognise there is a growing appetite for calorie information."
This supports the argument that however onerous the task is of analysing dishes in order to undertake menu labelling, it is becoming a consumer-driven issue. The UK findings from the World Menu Report from Unilever Food Solutions found that 73% of consumers want to know more about what is in their food when eating out and 61% preferred to eat in places that are transparent about the ingredients they use.
top tips for menu labelling
â- Following analysis of each recipe, a caterer must decide whether to label only calories or provide further nutritional information such as GDAs (Guideline Daily Amounts).
â- Point-of-sale must be designed with the GDAs - or calories - clearly displayed. However this must be appropriate for the environment, taking into consideration the amount of display space and the type of customers.
â- Ensure menu labelling is accurate and representative and that customer queries about the information being provided can be answered. Training is therefore a must for teams to understand the information being provided and the importance of menu compliance and portion control.
menu labelling tools
Fretwell-Downing Hospitality software
Catering industry software tool Saffron includes a module that has been tailored to help restaurants easily obtain nutritional information for their menus. The web-based software requires either the entry of their recipe ingredients and quantities, and specifying the cooking method; or selecting the relevant supplier product. This is then referenced to the McCance & Widdowson composition of foods database and the nutritional information provided by suppliers for their products, which are held within Saffron.
The software allows operators to specify the information they want - such as calories, fat content, salt, sugars, saturated fat levels - and how they want the report to appear. For example, it is able to show the results as "traffic lights". However accurate this system is, the calorie labelling pledge is helpful in giving a margin for error of 20% on each dish.
Live Better Programme
Available to Unilever Food Solutions customers, the Live Better solution - which has been developed through the group's work with healthcare caterers - helps them expand their offering and communicate healthy alternatives on their menus by providing expert marketing, culinary and nutritional advice. Live Better provides nutritionally-analysed recipes and information for use at the point of purchase to help both caterers and customers understand what is in the food they are serving and eating. It has been rolled out nationwide to over 66 sites.
Laboratory analysis is another way for food operators to calculate the nutritional aspects of their dishes and Alcontrol is among the various firms offering food-testing services to the catering industry.
The company says it offers rapid, reliable solutions for supporting food production and food retailer operations and has a focus on integrating its solution with its customers' business processes and IT systems to allow seamless operation. Its network of specialist laboratories allows clients to perform rapid turnaround testing for product development or post-development label. Among its customers is Harvester, who uses the company's expertise to work out the calorific content of its dishes.
1. What is the margin for error in the calorific content when labelled on menus and packaging?
2. What is the deadline for companies to sign up to the Responsibility Deal?
a End of 2011
b End of 2012
c Before 2015
d No deadline
3. Why should companies sign up to the Responsibility Deal?
a They are legally obliged to do so and a failure to sign up could result in a fine
b It provides an opportunity for food service companies and restaurant chains to have a say in how any potential future legislation will be formulated
c It will save money because customers will identify the healthiest dishes on the menu and buy more of them
d The government will pay them to be involved as it ultimately saves the country money through having to deal with less illness caused by unhealthy eating
4. What is the view of consumers to having the calories labelled on menus when they eat out?
a They find the idea will potentially put them off many of the options on menus and they'll therefore choose not to eat in those restaurants that introduce menu labelling
b They are indifferent to its introduction
c They have expressed a desire to know more about their food and have a preference for eating in places that are transparent about the ingredients they use
d They do not understand what is a high or low calorific content so menu labelling means little to them
5. Where does the calorific content of a dish/food item have to be shown?
a In a prominent place
b On the packaging - for take-away foods
c On the wall of the restaurant
d On the menu
6. For which types of catering operators is calorie labelling relevant?
a Only the fast-food chains
b Arguably, it is relevant to all restaurants as the whole industry has a responsibility to give customers more information on what they are serving
c Only schools and hospitals where eating nutritional food is most important
d Only the take-away operators
(answers at the end of this document)
Health and nutrition and the World Menu Report
Our recently launched World Menu Report highlighted a clear message that consumers want more nutritional information about what is on the menu. With nearly 60% of consumers in the UK saying that knowing the nutritional content of their dishes would influence their choice, the business case is compelling.
We realise that a one size to fit all approach isn't practical and at Unilever Food Solutions our culinary team has been working with our customers to help them not only deliver healthier meals, but also enable them to provide the nutritional information their customers want.
Our culinary and nutritional teams have worked with operators across the sector from the NHS, schools and universities with our Eatz4U and LiveBetter programmes to bespoke concepts for in-store restaurants, leisure venues and garden centres.
If you would like to know more about the findings of the World Menu Report, or discuss how we might help you deliver healthier menus, contact the Unilever Food Solutions Careline on 0800 783 3728 or visit www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.uk.
(Answers: 1 c; 2 d; 3 b; 4 c; 5 a; 6 b)