Scottish ‘out of home’ food businesses – including takeaways restaurants and cafes - are being urged to put a stronger focus on calorific content as the industry recovers from the crippling effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The call comes as latest findings highlight how almost everyone in Scotland last year (98%) was now eating out of their homes at some time.
They also show a 31% surge in the value of takeaways and home deliveries bought compared with 2019, despite overall contraction of the out of home market sector. A trend that has accelerated and is expected to continue beyond the pandemic.
A separate study of larger branded food businesses also found only just over half showed any nutrition and calorie information on their online offerings. Without transparency, consumers cannot make informed choices and that needs to change.
A third of main meals had a calorific value (kcals) of above 1,000; some burgers being sold by one provider were loaded with 2,580 kcals; some salads had up to 1,380; and the average portion of chips had 434 kcals, rising to 670 with toppings. Guideline daily amounts are 2500 kcals for men and 2000 kcals for women.
Both sets of findings are published today by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and support the Scottish Government’s ‘Out of Home Action (OOH) Plan, also announced today, which includes a commitment to a consultation on mandatory calorie labelling and the development of a code of practice for children’s menus.
The FSS study looked at the pandemic’s influence on what we bought from an estimated 39,000 out of home food businesses in Scotland and also showed 1.2 million more people had food and drinks delivered to them compared with 2019.
FSS chief executive, Geoff Ogle, said it welcomed the action plan, which commits to consulting on calorie labelling and developing a range of actions to improve the OOH food and drink environment.
He said FSS’s free-to-use MenuCal online tool can help food businesses provide calorie and allergen information to customers, including calculating the calories of anything they produce.
Geoff Ogle said:
“With two thirds of the Scottish population overweight or obese, and cost to the health service of treating the long-term effect of poor diet estimated to be nearing £600 million, tackling the poor Scottish diet is a growing health issue and an urgent economic one.
“Unsurprisingly these findings highlight how Covid has changed eating behaviours out of home, and we remain concerned about the sector’s effects on Scotland’s diet. The re-opening by thousands of food business after the pandemic presents an ideal opportunity to focus on healthier offerings. If nutrition and calorie labelling is not being provided, I’d encourage consumers to ask themselves why or ask the business for the information.
“While commending those businesses that already provide calories on menus, we hope this action paves the way for many others, especially smaller operators, to follow suit.”
Dr Gillian Purdon, FSS Head of Nutrition, added:
“Our MenuCal online tool is a brilliant resource, which we know will be invaluable to businesses in supporting them in providing calorie and allergen information for consumers.
“It can assist businesses support our commitment to improving the food environment and help people make healthier food choices.”