Last updated on 15 January 2009

FSA announces first steps to introduce nutrition information for consumers when eating out of home

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has today launched the first phase of its work to introduce nutrition information in a range of catering outlets.

The FSA wants 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.

The FSA is talking to a range of companies that will act as early adopters to introduce calorie labelling in the summer, further details of which will be published in due course. This activity will see calorie information provided on menus and other materials available at the point consumers choose what to eat.

The FSA’s work lends support to the aims of the Scottish Government’s Healthy Eating, Active Living action plan to improve diet and tackle obesity.

The FSA’s initial plans for nutrition information were launched at a breakfast meeting in London with over 50 of the UK’s largest catering businesses. Those attending were also presented with initial feedback from qualitative research exploring consumers' views on the availability of nutrition information when they are eating out of home.

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
  • Consumers were 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
  • Consumers want consistency in the information offered to them, making it easier to take healthier options
  • As nutrition information already exists in shops and supermarkets, participants felt having similar information when eating out was an obvious next step
  • There was support from groups for calorie information at the point of decision as the simplicity of it was appealing

FSA chief executive, Tim Smith, said:

'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. As a family man, I know how important it is to have clear information in order to make decisions about the food we, our children and anyone else eat when we go out. Providing calorie information is supported by our consumer research and intuitively feels right too - this is the first and simplest step and can only be a good thing for all consumers.'

'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.'

This qualitative research follows an omnibus survey carried out by the FSA in June 2008, which suggested that 85% of consumers agreed that restaurants, pubs and cafes have a responsibility to make clear what is in the food they serve. More than 80% of respondents said that nutrition information would be most useful if provided at the point they choose or order food, such as on menus or menu boards.

This work supports the Department of Health's cross-Government obesity strategy Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives. Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives includes a Healthy Food Code of Good Practice which commits to simple and effective nutrition information in catering settings.

Notes to Editors

1. A meeting with over 50 of the largest restaurant, pub and sandwich and coffee shop chains was held on 15 January to discuss these plans and to gather views from industry on the best approach to achieving calorie labelling. In due course the Agency will announce the companies that have agreed to take the first steps in adopting calorie information in a number of their outlets.

2. A full and final report of the qualitative research will be published in early February 2009.

3. The qualitative research took place in November and December 2008 and consisted of 24 group discussions in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, plus two days of 'quali-hall' interviews (short face-to-face qualitative interviews). The research was commissioned by the FSA, managed by Central Office of Information (COI) and carried out by Navigator.

4. FSA Communications Directorate commissioned questions on the TNS RSGB face to face omnibus in June 2008. Over 2,000 people were asked about the information they would like to help them make healthier choices when eating out of the home - see link below.

5. Examples of nutrition information tested with consumers included some currently made available by companies on a voluntary basis in the UK along with examples of calorie labelling available in New York City.

6. According to British Hospitality Association figures, the catering sector has seen sales triple between 1981 and 2005. The FSA’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) shows men get 25% of total food energy intake and women get 21% of energy from eating out of the home.

7. On 20 November 2008, the FSA published healthy eating commitments from six of the UK’s largest high street restaurant chains. The companies involved –Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Subway and Wimpy – serve an estimated three million customers a day. In January and July 2008, the FSA published commitments from the UK’s leading workplace caterers and food suppliers, which is already making a positive impact on 1.6 million meals served every day. These companies are 3663, Brakes, Accent, ARAMARK, Artizan, Autograph, BaxterStorey, Charlton House, Compass Group, Elior UK, ISS Eaton, ISS Mediclean and Sodexo.

Similar commitments are due to be published by major pub, sandwich and coffee shop and family dining chains in early 2009. For more information, see link below.

8. In April 2008, the New York City Board of Health passed a law which obliged some restaurants to list calories on their menus. The regulation applies to any chain restaurant that has 15 or more outlets anywhere in the US. This affects about ten per cent of the city’s restaurants and a third of the meals sold.

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