Out of home sector - mandatory calorie labelling: consultation

The public is being invited to have their say on plans to add the number of calories to menus in the out of home food sector including cafes, restaurants and takeaways.

1. Context

1.1 This consultation fulfils a pledge made in our 2021 Out of Home Action Plan. The Plan builds on the commitments made in the 2018 Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan and recommendations made by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) to Scottish Ministers in 2019. Mandating calorie labelling at the point of choice is one potential way to support our Out of Home (OOH) sector to make a key contribution in improving our dietary health.

1.2 For the purpose of this proposal, the OOH sector is defined as including:

  • Cafes, all types of restaurants, takeaways, pubs/bars, bakeries, sweet and dessert shops, vending machines, workplace canteens, hotels, mobile caterers, leisure and entertainment venues.
  • Supermarkets, delicatessens and convenience stores who provide "food on the go".
  • Places where we purchase food and non-alcoholic drinks (see 1.3 below) when commuting or travelling.
  • Manufacturers and suppliers of food to the OOH sector.
  • Food delivery services, including online services.
  • OOH businesses in the public sector, including food provided for staff and visitors in prisons, military settings, and adult care and health care settings (for food for those residing in prisons, adult care settings and in military settings and patient food see paragraph 1.7).
  • Any other venue or outlet that sells non-prepacked food ready for immediate consumption.

1.3 Food referred to hereafter within this consultation includes both food and non-alcoholic drinks.

1.4 Pre-packed food is not within the scope of these proposals as there are already requirements to provide nutrition information for pre-packed food. Pre-packed food for direct sale (PPDS) is within the scope of these proposals (see section 5 and glossary for definition).

1.5 We estimate that there are around 41,000 outlets in Scotland that fall within our Out of Home definition.

Table 1: Number of food business outlets by category in Scotland
Category of food business Number of outlets (as at 21 February 2022)
Restaurant/café/canteen 11,297
Takeaway/sandwich shop 5,835
Mobile caterers 1,950
Pub/bar/nightclub 4,064
Other catering premises 5,413
Retailers – supermarkets/hypermarkets 1,245
Retailers – other 8,502
Hotels/bed & breakfast/guest houses 2,991
Total 41,297

Categories excluded are: caring premises, distributors/transporters, farmers/growers, importers/exporters, manufacturers/packers and school/college/university

1.6 These proposals do not include schools or early learning and childcare settings as these already have regulatory standards for food in place.

1.7 We are considering including meals served for those residing within prisons, military settings, adult care settings and for patients in hospitals. We are seeking responses to this consultation in relation to meals served in those settings to inform policy development. However, food sold to staff and visitors within these settings falls within the definition of OOH (see paragraph 1.2) and is included within the scope of the policy proposals.

1.8 Public sector organisations have the opportunity, scale of operations and reach to normalise the provision of calorie information in the places where people eat. However, we need to identify where particular issues may make the introduction of calorie information more challenging in certain parts of the public sector, for instance where food needs to meet other sector-specific standards.

1.9 We are considering exempting OOH food provided by a charity, in the course of its charitable activities, and provided for free, or for a price which is less than or equal to the cost of providing that food. This would likely include food offered for sale by or on behalf of a charity, at a single event, to raise funds for its charitable activities. We are not considering exempting commercial businesses run on behalf or in support of a charity.

1.10 The pandemic disrupted our eating OOH behaviours as a result of closures and restrictions on OOH business operations and changes to working patterns which persisted for much of 2020 and well into 2021. Therefore, most data presented below is pre-pandemic, as it relates to a more stable period. FSS will continue to monitor our OOH behaviours to understand how the pandemic has changed these trends. Previous FSS publications can be found on the FSS nutrition hub.

1.11 In 2019, 98% of the population living in Scotland purchased food and drink OOH at some point, accounting for an estimated spend of £4.6 billion. At that time, the average person in Scotland visited OOH four times per week spending around £20. Those who live in rural areas visit OOH more frequently than those living in urban areas, with 281 trips per year vs 198 trips per year respectively in 2019.

1.12 People living in the most deprived areas (SIMD 1 & 2) purchase food and drink OOH as frequently as those living in the least deprived areas (SIMD 4 & 5).

1.13 The most popular OOH venues are convenience stores, bakery and sandwich shops, supermarket cafés, quick service restaurants and workplace and education canteens which collectively make up over 75% of all visits. Full service restaurants make up only 3% of all visits.

1.14 Public Health England (PHE) (whose health improvement functions are now part of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities) estimated in 2017 that on average 25% of the calories we consume in the UK comes from food eaten OOH. Lunch and snacks are the most frequent eating out occasions, and the most popular foods purchased from the OOH sector are often less healthy options, higher in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS).

1.15 In 2019, the top OOH food and drink purchased were coffee, regular soft drinks, sandwiches, confectionery, tea, cakes, biscuits and pastries, chips, water, diet cold drinks, crisps, snacks and popcorn. Among the most popular types of main meals purchased in 2018 were burger meals, fish meals and pizza meals. Top takeaways included burgers, Chinese and Thai meals, fish, pizza, and chicken meals.

1.16 Discretionary products such as sugary drinks, confectionery, savoury snacks, cakes, biscuits and pastries, which provide few, if any, essential nutrients, were purchased in 37% of all OOH visits in 2019 (equates to 353 million visits).

1.17 For the purposes of this proposal, OOH is not considered to be just about eating when away from home. It includes takeaways brought into the home, and home delivered ready to consume foods. These increased in use during the COVID-19 pandemic with a doubling of the proportion of OOH trips being takeaway, and an additional 1.2 million consumers using home delivery in Scotland in 2020 compared to 2019.

1.18 Eating OOH has been associated with obesity and there is evidence that food obtained from fast-food outlets or takeaways is associated with higher calorie intakes. Available data shows that the food we eat OOH contains more calories per 100g than the food we eat within the home (205 kcals per 100g vs 169 kcal per 100g).

1.19 At present, the provision of calorie information on OOH foods (or non-prepacked foods ready for immediate consumption) is provided by some businesses on a voluntary basis. Where voluntary information is provided, provision of the information is regulated by the Food Information for Consumers Regulations which sets out the requirements for voluntary information, for example, the energy (calorie and kilojoule) value of food should be calculated and presented in a particular way set out in the Regulation.

1.20 In a recent study by FSS, analysis of calorie information provided online by a sample of larger chain OOH restaurants and takeaways operating in Scotland showed considerable variation in the calorie content of main meals. Calorie contents of similar dishes had a wide range as shown below. This demonstrates that it is difficult for the consumer to know the calorie content of the food they are buying without the business providing this information.

Table 2: Range of reported calorie contents of menu items provided by OOH businesses in Scotland
Category Number of items recorded Average (kcal) Lowest Highest
Starters and small plates 296 386 15 1317
Main meal 716 812 172 5070
Pizza 477 970 171 3080
Sides 332 248 11 1334
Desserts 514 392 46 1426
Popcorn 22 366 139 1180
Milkshake 48 357 127 641
Coffee 112 111 5 588

1.21 There is currently no way of determining the prevalence of calorie labelling already in place in OOH businesses in Scotland as this data is not collected. In 2018, researchers undertook visits to major restaurant (fast-food and full service) and takeaway chains operating in the UK to assess the presence of calorie information and how this was displayed. Of the 104 chains visited, a minority (18 chains, 17%) provided in store calorie labelling. Furthermore, those that did provide calorie information tended not to adhere to recommended labelling practices for example, displaying calorie information clearly and prominently at point of choice. In a similar study also conducted in 2018, 13 out of 97 (13%) branded outlets in the UK were found to include calorie information on menus in premises.

1.22 FSS conducted research on 81 larger chain OOH restaurants and takeaways operating in Scotland in summer 2021 collecting data from both a survey and their websites. Of the 81 businesses included in the research, 64% provided calorie information of their dishes online. Less than half of the 14 businesses who responded to the survey provided calorie information in their premises.



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