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New Calorie Menu Labelling Legislation: when, why, who, what is expected?

"Calorie labelling will be required on all items that are prepared and sold for immediate consumption and are not subject to existing pre-packaged labelling requirements"
7th Sep 2021

From the 6th April 2022, certain businesses in England will have to include calorie labels to the food they sell. The initiative applies to large out-of-home food businesses, including restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees. It is part of new legislation that was introduced in 2020 to tackle obesity. However, long before this new regulation, calorie labelling has been at the forefront of efforts to help consumers make better food choices.


The UK introduced voluntary calorie labelling as part of a.Over 40 businesses, representing over 9500 outlets signed up to provide calorie information on food prepared to be eaten out of the home. In 2018, the UK public health body Public Health England launched a campaign to reduce calories in foods by 20% by 2024. Over 40 businesses, representing over 9500 outlets signed up to provide calorie information on food prepared to be eaten out of the home. In 2018, the UK public health body Public Health England launched a campaign to reduce calories in foods by 20% by 2024.


The idea of putting calories on menus has generated a lot of debate in the past decade. Will it make a difference? Some people have highlighted that this will generate an additional burden on businesses that have already faced unimaginable challenges in recent years.


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Why Calories on Menus can Make a Difference

There is plenty of evidence to show that putting calories on menus can have a positive impact on the decisions people will make when making food choices.(1) Research shows that businesses who provide calorie information were able to report better customer loyalty and less food waste. Businesses reported an increase in revenue of 3%.(2)


It turns out that displaying calories on menus gives smaller portions new appeal, which actually means that businesses can serve more with less. Calorie labelling also lets people know that the business has their best interests at heart. This helps to build trust!


Even though people in the developed world are living longer than ever before, those populations are living less healthy years than in the past. This phenomenon can be explained by a recent, yet dramatic shift in lifestyle habits:

  • Increased access to (and consumption of) of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugar - including many processed foods and take-aways.

  • Less physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanisation.


Recent shifts in the consumer's behaviour mean that eating out is a lot more common. Without adequate information about what is being eaten, it is almost impossible to know how many calories are being consumed in a sitting. Providing calorie information on food served outside of the home is one of many initiatives that can support a healthier diet. 


Provision of calorie information on menus provides people with information that can support informed food choices. You can think of it as one more piece of the puzzle in our fight against obesity and associated chronic disease.


When is the deadline?

6th April 2022


Who does it apply to?

Regulations have been laid in Parliament which will mandate all businesses in the out of home sector with more than 250 employees in England to list calorie counts on non-prepacked food and soft drinks. Examples of business types that will be required to display calories on menus after the April 2022 deadline, include:

  • Restaurants

  • Cafés

  • Takeaways

  • Bakeries

  • Caterers

  • Supermarkets

  • Entertainment venues, e.g. cinemas

  • Hotels

  • Workplaces, where the food and drink on sale is provided by a large catering company

  • Franchisees

  • Third-party takeaway platforms*


What calorie information is needed and how should it be displayed?

“Calorie labelling should be implemented according to best practice to ensure compliance and increase efficacy” 


But what does that actually mean? Simply put - the information should be consistent, logical and be easy to understand. Here are some practical guidelines that are best practice.


  • Calorie information should be displayed consistently for all menu items at the point of choice. That’s the place where people actually review the options available and decide what they want to order. It might be from a physical menu or display, or an online menu, or even a third party delivery platform. The calories should be listed beside the price of the food item.

    • Items on a Menu: Calorie information should be next to the food description or price. The information should be in the same type and style of lettering, colour, size and background.

    • Items on a Display: When on a display, calorie information should be clearly visible - and the label should identify the food concerned, and be next to, or in close proximity to the relevant item.

    • Items on an online Menu: Must be displayed on each page.

  • When showing calorie information, the label should be per portion, or for a whole meal, reflecting what is expected to be consumed – after all, no one wants to get out a calculator when ordering food.

    • Calories should be listed in relation to a single portion of the food. If the item to be purchased is for two or more (for example, a full pie, or cake) the calories should be listed in relation to the number of portions.

    • Calorie should be written in kilocalories, and marked by the letters “kcal”

  • It’s also best practice to provide some context, to inform people about the number of calories it is recommended to eat in a day. For example “Adults need around 2000 kcal a day.” This means that someone can understand that if a particular menu option is high in calories, that it is a significant portion of the recommended daily intake.


Which foods does the legislation apply to?

Calorie labelling will be required on all items that are prepared and sold for immediate consumption and are not subject to existing pre-packaged labelling requirements.


Food for immediate consumption includes:

  • Food that is offered for sale at a café, restaurant or other premises selling food for consumption on the premises.

  • Food that is offered for sale by a business for consumption off the premises and does not require any preparation* by the consumer before it is consumed.

*peeling, hulling or washing, cooking,thawing frozen food, and heating or reheating pre-cooked food.


Examples of foods that must have calorie information:

  • Unpackaged items such as a meal at a restaurant

  • Prepacked food for direct sale such as a sandwich made and packaged on-site at a café

  • Food packaged at a consumer’s request, such as a sausage roll at a bakery

  • Sides and toppings on a menu.


Foods that are not included:

  • Prepacked Foods

  • Condiments provided alongside food (not as part of it)

  • Food which is on a menu for less than 30 consecutive days and/or less than 30 days in total across the year

  • Drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol

  • Food which is not normally offered by a business but made following an express request by a customer (including preparing food, which is on the menu, differently to how they usually would) if sold for consumption off premises

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables or other unprocessed products consisting of a single ingredient; loaves of bread or baguettes; and fish, meat or cheese provided they are not added to other food or offered for sale as an ingredient in food with multiple ingredients are also exempt

  • Food provided free of charge in medical establishments or to residents in social care

  • Food provided at under 18 educational establishments

  • Food provided by charities or sold to raise money for charity at an event

  • Food served within the armed forces (save for at military canteens)

  • Food served on aircraft, trains or ferries making international journeys

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References

  1. Bleich SN, Economos CD, Spiker ML, Vercammen KA, VanEpps EM, Block JP, et al. A Systematic Review of Calorie Labeling and Modified Calorie Labeling Interventions: Impact on Consumer and Restaurant Behavior. Obesity. 2017;25(12):2018–44.

  2. Bollinger BB, Leslie P, Sorensen A. Calorie Posting in Chain Restaurants. Am Econ J Econ Policy. 2011;3:91–128.