Calorie counts on menus shift consumers’ choices

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Counting calories: Reflections six months on (Getty/ Hispanolistic)
Counting calories: Reflections six months on (Getty/ Hispanolistic)

Related tags Food Social responsibility

Half (49%) of consumers would change their food choice if they felt the menu showed it was too calorific, according to research from CGA by NielsenIQ.

What’s more, nearly two in three people would pick another option if the dish contained more than 1,000 calories.

Six months after ​the Government introduced mandatory calorie labelling for businesses with more than 250 employees, the new ‘Food Insights 22’ report highlights how consumers feel about the new measures.

Pubcos with more than 250 employees have had to display calorie information on non-prepacked food and drink since 6 April 2022.

The energy content must be displayed in kilocalories (kcal), reference the size of the portion to which the calorie information relates and display the statement ‘adults need around 2,000 kcal a day’. 

CGA business unit director of hospitality operations and food EMEA, Karl Chessell said: “Our report shows how crucial it is for suppliers and operators to understand the ways calorie labelling affects consumers’ decision-making."

Strategical thinking

“Venues need to find the right range of low-calorie food and drink options to appeal to those who watch their calories carefully, without compromising choices for those who have no interest in doing so. Menu design and communications—both physical and digital—are crucial too, and suppliers have a big role to play in supporting operators’ strategies," he added.

Two in five think they are a positive step to improving the nation’s health, but more than a third believe they will have a negative impact on people with eating disorders, and the rest are indifferent.

Consumers are also split on their views of calories as a choice factor – between those who sometimes or almost track them (46%) and those who rarely or never monitor them (54%).

Changing choices

Those aged 18 to 34 are nearly twice as likely to pay attention to calorie information than those aged 55 or over. Nearly one in six (15%) of people in this age bracket follow a calorie-controlled diet, versus just 8% of those aged over 55.

Furthermore, consumers who would change menu choices because of high calories are much more likely to choose another dish (48%) than get a smaller portion (33%).

When tracking calories and reducing courses, similar numbers say they would prioritise a starter (39%) or dessert (36%) to go with their main.

Revolution Bars chief executive Rob Pitcher previously told The MA​having to label calories will bring further cost pressures to the business and wider industry, at a time when the sector was trying to recover. 

The added costs include a full reprint of menus, the cost of updating websites and order and pay apps, as well as the cost of calculating the calorie information itself.  

What’s more, this will cause a considerable added workload across the marketing, food development and IT teams, all of whom are having to deal with more complexity being added into their normal jobs, according to Pitcher. 

“This is further Government interference which, while well intentioned, as these things often are, is not focusing in the right areas, given that dining out tends to be more of a treat occasion,” he concluded.      

Wells & Co chief executive Craig Billington also said the calorie regulations would pose some challenges for the company. “In terms of operating costs, we are now paying to upgrade our technology as well as re-printing menus to display information correctly,” he said. “As for impact on sales, we anticipate sales of side dishes and desserts may decline as guests begin tallying up their calorie consumption more consciously.” 

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