Public Health England (PHE) has begun discussions that include operators having to reduce calories in pizza to 928 and pies to 695, in a bid to help tackle childhood obesity.
UKHospitality (UKH) chief executive Kate Nicholls outlined how, while the trade is in favour of promoting healthy eating and operators are already taking steps to do this, consumers should also be able to make decisions on what they eat for themselves.
She said: “We are supportive of efforts to promote healthier eating habits and the sector is already taking decisive, proactive action to reformulate menus to reduce calories, increase transparency and offer healthier dishes for customers.
“But freedom of choice must remain key to the consumer experience and it is reasonable for people to treat themselves when dining out, while still controlling their calorific intake.”
UKH also reiterated its warning from earlier this year (September) that mandatory calorie labelling could also have a significant impact on the trade.
Nicholls added: “As we stated earlier this year, the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling on menus would likely have a damaging effect, resulting in prices going up for customers and investment in businesses going down, inevitably negatively impacting the overall consumer experience.
“The new proposal to shrink the size of dishes and cap calories will be yet another burden for operators, and a measure that will ultimately lead to additional costs for many hospitality businesses, as acknowledged by the Treasury.
“This new proposal arrives at a time when not only is the eating out dining sector experiencing turbulent times, but our high streets are suffering.
“Hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants are saddled with excessive and increasing taxation and regulatory costs, which is why our sector needs targeted support in the Budget.”
One pub group that prides itself on its pies is Fuller’s. The company has a dedicated part of its estate for pies with its Ale and Pie pubs.
Fuller’s director of food Paul Dickinson said: “We are firm believers in consumer choice so we try to offer something for everyone.
“Currently all our gravy-based pies already fall within the new recommended limit although some of our more luxurious pies, those with a contemporary twist on the traditional like pepper steak and Stilton, do have a slightly higher calorie count.
“In addition, our new ale and pie menu includes mini pies as an alternative, so if customers really want to watch those calories but still enjoy a delicious pie, they could have one of those instead.”
Childhood obesity is due to modern day living and a fast-food society, according to the British Pie Association.
Founder member Howard Fielding said: “Our view as a totally independent association is that pies have been around since the 14th century (and probably before if records were better).
“Childhood obesity hasn’t been a building or sustained problem over the centuries and it is not something that has slowly crept up on us. It is interesting to note that looking at several establishments, there are no pies on children’s menus.
“People have a choice, more choices now than ever in human history, and those choices need to be balanced – everything in moderation.
“A standard pie is typically between 400 and 600 calories, about one third of an average adult calorie requirement.”
Don't just eat pies
However, Fielding didn’t think the calorie limit would solve the issue of childhood obesity because pies are not popular with children.
He added: “As members of the British Pie Association, we don’t just eat pies. That would be foolish and somewhat limiting from a nutritional point of view.
“We, like everyone else, have choices, and we like to promote good living, a wide and varied choice, and we enable that choice by publishing our good pie findings.
“Childhood obesity is a very serious issue and we believe everyone should be encouraged to reduce the problem.
“We are not convinced a calorie limit on pies will solve child obesity or make a significant dent in it as the reality is that pies are not a primary ‘go to’ food for children.”
However, he was for calorie labelling on foods and claimed limiting calories stifles creativity when making the pies.
Fielding said: “The British Pie Association is all for clarity and openness, we welcome initiatives such as documenting nutritional details on menus.
“That is a great initiative and it is helping people make a more informed choice. We also support new ideas, new recipes, new ways of creating pie masterpieces and have seen quite a change over the years, introducing vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free pies, so reduced calorie pies would just be, in our opinion, another type of pie.
“Enforcing a limit however, would stifle creativity, reduce choice and have a negative impact on the UK pie industry.”