She said Labour is “particularly vulnerable” to pressures to regulate because it oversaw self regulation of industries such as food as well as banks and energy - the fallout from the banking crisis in particular is “what’s fuelling their desire to take back control”.
Party in "time warp"
Speaking at the ALMR’s Autumn Conference in Bath, Nicholls said her experience of Labour’s recent Party Conference was that the party is in a “time warp” and has had a “huge lurch to the left”.
She pointed out that health groups are united in their call for new laws to force pubs and restaurants to serve healthier meals, highlighting in particular action to make children’s meals healthier and force new restrictions on marketing. She said they view food as “the new tobacco”.
The Coalition has so far pursued a voluntary approach under the Responsibility Deal, which includes commitments around areas such as calorie and saturated fat reduction.
Nicholls said: “We can see that if labour got in all of these health lobbyists would get their way and we would feel a lot of regulation. There’s an opportunity now to try and move things forward.”
She said the “pressure is really on the biggest chains in our sector because they are not engaged,” adding that the casual dining industry is “no better”. However, Nicholls did point to some action that’s been taken, such as Greene King introducing low-fat mayonnaise and Mitchells & Butlers serving salad dressing on the side rather than on top of meals at Harvester.
“We have a huge opportunity at this point in time, when they’ve just fired the starting gun for the General Election, to try and make sure that the messages we are talking about and the stories they are telling our ours.”
Nicholls said the industry is an “easy target” and the sector needs to speak with a united voice, like the health lobbyists. “It’s something our industry needs to do better at doing because we don’t do it very well.”