Upselling in pubs is fuelling obesity crisis

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Calorie intake: the report revealed the average customer consumed an additional 330 calories a week due to upselling
Calorie intake: the report revealed the average customer consumed an additional 330 calories a week due to upselling

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Upselling techniques used in pubs are helping to fuel the obesity epidemic by leading customers to consume thousands of additional and unnecessary calories, a new report is claiming.

The Size Matters​ report, which was published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming World, showed consumers face an average of 106 verbal pushes towards unhealthy choices each year.

This was due to being ask whether they would like to upgrade to larger meals and drinks, add high-calorie toppings or sides to their order or take advantage of special offers on unhealthy food and drink.

The report, which polled 2,055 UK adults, showed the average person consumes an additional 330 calories a week, a total of 17,000 per year, as a result of businesses, including pubs, upselling high-calorie food and drink.

Over the course of the year, this could result in an estimated weight gain of 5lbs (2.3kg), according to the RSPH.

The report showed that upselling techniques used by pubs resulted in 35% of consumers adding chips or onion rings to the side of their meal.

The findings illustrated that young people are most likely to be exposed to upselling, with 18 to 24-year-olds experiencing it 166 times a year and going on to consume an additional 750 calories per week as a result – an estimated weight gain of 11lbs (5kg) over the year.

The report also found consumers who take an upsell will generally spend about 17% more money but receive 55% more calories.

To combat the issue, the RSPH and Slimming World are calling on health professionals to use the Making Every Contact Count initiatives to make consumers aware of the ‘unhealthy conversations’ they encounter and for responsible businesses and operators to receive business rate relief for promoting healthier choices.

Empowering consumers

The criteria to qualify should include:

  • Businesses not training staff to upsell unhealthy, high-calorie food and drink, such as foods high in fat, salt and sugar as defined by the nutrient-profile model developed by the Food Standards Agency.
  • Businesses to pledge to only upsell healthy food and drink.
  • Businesses to provide clear in-house calorie information for all food and drink products (including alcohol).
  • Staff pay not being linked to the upselling of unhealthy, high-calorie food and drink. Businesses should not financially incentivise food and drink that is damaging to the public’s health when consumed to excess.

RSPH and Slimming World also want to empower consumers to insist they get what they asked for originally, using the hashtag #JustThisThanks.

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive Kate Nicholls said Slimming World was concerned about upselling being a problem for customer’s health, but did not pay due recognition to the significant efforts made by the trade to provide healthier options for customers.

"Obesity is the public health challenge of our generation and if not addressed urgently could tip over the point of no return."

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer 

She said: “We should remember that customers have a choice and are ultimately responsible for what they choose to buy, but nevertheless, arguably have a healthier range of options to choose from than ever before.

“Venues have spent time, energy and money in providing greater choice for customers, along with healthier options and a renewed focus on transparency and provenance.

“Furthermore, for the vast majority of our customers, eating out in a pub or restaurant is not an everyday occurrence.

“The report touches upon the notion of business rates relief for those businesses dedicated towards improving public health.

“While we are supportive of measures to reduce rates burdens for employers. They should not be linked to any requirements relating to food and drink content or portion size.

“The problem of increased business rates relief is a separate measure and should be treated as such.”

Lower calorie options

A spokesperson for the British Beer & Pub Association said: “What is important is that consumers have the choice and many pubs these days will have lower-calorie options available.

“The same applies to drinks, where there is now a greater choice of low-alcohol and zero-alcohol options, which are also lower in calories.”

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer described obesity as the public health challenge of the current generation and said if not addressed urgently, could tip over the point of no return.

She added: “Incentivising businesses to help keep their customers healthy by offering reduced business rates could be a positive step to help reduce the burden placed on our health-care system by obesity-related illness.

“It also gives businesses the opportunity to step up to the plate and take their fair share of responsibility for the public’s health and wellbeing.

“Almost everyone can relate to the feeling of being pressured into buying extra calories through upselling.

“Our latest report shows the extent to which these calories can really add up, often without us noticing."

Cramer also said she hoped that through this work, consumers would become more aware of how businesses target them with upselling and help the public maintain a healthy weight.

Shadow public health minister Sharon Hodgson said: “The promotion of unhealthy food has clearly infiltrated our society and is contributing significantly to the burgeoning obesity crisis we see today.

“Alongside the many actions to address obesity, it is crucial that consumers are empowered to make healthier choices rather than being bombarded with junk-food marketing or encouraged to upgrade to a larger drink or meal than the one originally ordered.”

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