Time to display the calories

Back in 2018, I wrote a blog discussing some of the evidence and benefits of adding calorie values to menus as part of the strategy to tackle obesity.  At that point, the UK government was proposing to introduce legislation to make this mandatory for the out of home sector in England and since then the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us the impact obesity has on health and health outcomes.  

That proposal is now a reality with regulations having been laid before parliament to ensure implementation by April 2022.  The new regulation is known as the Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021.

The new regulations are being introduced to ensure that large businesses display calorie information on menus and food labels in order to help consumers make healthier choices when eating out.  This means cafes, restaurants and takeaways with 250+ employees must provide the calorie information for food and soft drinks at the point of choice – whether that be a physical or online menu, food label or via an online or app-based food order & delivery service.

There are a few points worth highlighting from the draft regulation:

The energy content (kcal) must be provided for a single portion or, if the item is meant for consumption by more than one person, the whole item.

The size of the portion or the number of people it shall serve must also be displayed along with a statement “adults need around 2000kcal a day” (the latter is not required on a children’s only menu).

Foods in scope of the regulation include: those suitable for immediate consumption both on or off the premises; food that isn’t pre-packed or requires further preparation by the consumer before eating e.g. peeling/washing/cooking or re-heating.

There are a number of exempt foods such as: condiments provided to be added by the consumer; foods provided to hospital patients/care home residents/school children; unprocessed single ingredient foods; fresh fruit or veg; food provided by a charity.

Foods not included on the menu that are made at the express request of a customer or have been made in a different way than usual are also exempt from calorie information.

There are concerns from eating disorder charities that the new rules could exacerbate eating disorder thoughts and behaviours or increase stress for those with eating disorders.  With this in mind, the government has included a provision permitting businesses to provide a menu without calorie information at the request of the customer.

As experts in food and nutrition labelling, providing nutrition information for menus and product labels for over 20 years, AB Food Nutrition can work with you to implement the new regulation quickly, easily and cost-effectively.  We calculate the nutrient profile of your recipes based on the ingredients, quantities and cooking methods used. We can even provide suggestions on how to improve the nutritional profile of your recipes so that you can offer customers healthier choices.  For more information, please contact Anne.

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Tips for reviewing your food & drink label artworks

We are now a good few weeks into the post-Brexit era and navigating our way through the changes and challenges this has brought to the food industry.  The final months of the transition period were particularly busy for anyone concerned with the regulatory aspects of food labelling – making sure necessary changes were in place before the 30 December 2020 deadline so that products could continue to be sold throughout the EU.  That work still isn’t quite finished yet but thankfully for those of you who only sell to the UK market there is a bit of breathing space until 2022 to get everything in order.

The monumental increase in label/artwork checking in the latter part of 2020 meant there was clearly not enough hours in the day to lose reviewing amended versions 2 or 3 or beyond, and so it was highly important to make sure everything was correct or that all of the necessary amendments had been identified at version 1.  The way I generally approach this is to follow a four stage review process, which I thought might be useful to share with you.

  1. Is it the correct product/recipe?
  2. Is the information technically correct as per the regulations?
  3. Is the information consistent?
  4. Read it again through the eyes of a consumer.

Before you start, make sure you have set aside enough time to do the review adequately and get rid of any distractions.  If you are going to spot mistakes then you need to concentrate.

Stage one

You will know exactly what I mean here! You have literally spent months (or longer) developing your product and modifying the recipe to perfection, so by this stage you must be absolutely sure you are using the correct and final recipe to establish your ingredients list, allergens and nutrition information.  A few quick sense checks here and there are useful too – for example, if you know you are adding 1% salt to your product – do the nutrition values match and is there at least 1g/100g salt declared?  

Stage two

This is the bit that understandably takes the longest.  First, you need to be confident that you know which pieces of legislation apply to your product. You must check carefully that all the mandatory information is included and presented correctly as specified in the regulations. For example, in addition to the selling title, have you included a suitable legal name for the food such as a customary name or a sufficient descriptive name? Are the ingredients all declared is descending order by weight including the sub-ingredients of any compound raw materials? Have you highlighted every allergen in the ingredients list? Is the nutrition table in the correct format/order?  Are you making any authorised nutrition or health claims – and does your product comply with the necessary conditions?  If you happen to be making products that are sold under a retailer own brand then you will have the retailer’s labelling policies to consider as well.

Stage three

Consistency of the information on your artwork can mean two things. One, being consistent with the other products you already manufacture and sell – to convey your brand identity, and two, for consistency with other brands of the same or similar products.  Compare to see if you are providing the same general information as the other brands and haven’t overlooked anything vital. Take care here though and don’t always assume that the other brands are 100% legal.

Stage four

Finally, have a look at your new label from a consumer perspective. Absolutely no spelling mistakes! (Apparently, proof-reading backwards helps with this as it stops you from skimming the text – give it a go!). Is there anything that isn’t clear and might prompt consumer queries? Is photography realistic and representative of what will be inside the pack?  Is the design eye catching and can consumers easily compare your product to something similar when they are walking down the shopping aisle?  Is there enough contrast between the colour of the text versus the background and is the font type used clearly legible?

We’ve still got some time yet to get all our UK packaging compliant before October 2022, and I hope my hints might help make the process more structured for you whenever you are launching a new product or redesigning existing.

If you would prefer to outsource this important task, then don’t hesitate to contact a food regulatory/labelling expert who already does this crucial work day in and day out.

With over 20 years experience in ensuring regulatory compliance of food labels and specifications and carrying out nutrition analysis for back and front-of-pack labelling, AB Food Nutrition can review your product artwork and highlight anything that needs to change, suggesting ways you can amend so that you they meet the latest regulations and industry best practice.  Contact Anne for a competitive quote today.

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Salt Reduction 2024

Earlier this year, Public health England (PHE) consulted with industry on new salt reduction targets.  Their ambition was set out in the green paper ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’ with the aim to reduce the population’s salt intakes to 7g per day.  The recommended population average salt intake is 6g per day to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Voluntary salt reduction targets for industry have been around for quite some time with those set in 2014 building on three earlier sets (2006, 2008 and 2011).  The aim was to gradually reduce the levels of salt in the foods that contribute the most salt to our diet.

By 2018, PHE’s progress report showed that 81% of products were meeting the targets for 2017.

The new targets are to be achieved by 2024 and are based on the 2017 targets with revisions made where it is believed there is further scope for salt reduction.  Retailers and manufacturers should ensure their products meet the targets in table 1 and that foods offered for eating out of home such as those from in-store cafes, food on the go and takeaway should meet those in table 2.  Businesses who provide food and meals as part of the eating out, takeaway and delivery sector should ensure the foods they purchase or make meet the relevant targets in both tables.

Some notable changes to table 1 from the previous 2017 salt targets are:

  • The salted butter category now includes flavoured butters and buttery spreads such as garlic butter
  • The ready meal category has a new sub-category for sides and accompaniments e.g. bhajis, onion rings, coated garlic mushrooms
  • Salt and vinegar products category specifically lists popcorn and nuts in addition to crisps and snacks
  • New sub-categories for savoury and sweet popcorn and flavoured nuts
  • All flavours of ketchup and mayonnaise are now included as well as vegan alternatives
  • New sub-categories for chilli sauces, dips and condiments such as horseradish, tartare, seafood and mint sauce.

Table 2 includes targets for 11 food categories based on the 10 most popular food groups purchased in the eating out, takeaway and delivery sector and a specific target for children’s main meals.  These comprise of a ‘dish target’ where the food can be served as a meal on its own e.g. burgers, pies and chips, and a ‘meal target’ where a specific dish includes sides/accompaniment e.g. pasta dish with garlic bread and a side salad.

Businesses are expected to start working towards these new targets whilst also working to reduce levels of sugar and calories.  PHE plans to report on progress in 2022.

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling & menu boards and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to assess the impact recipe changes will have on nutritional content as well as advising on ways to achieve a desired nutritional profile such as reducing salt, sugar and calories.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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The rise of home food businesses

This is the first blog I have had chance to write since the UK was placed into Covid-19 lockdown (100 days ago today!) so I would like to start by saying that I hope you and your families are well whether you are working as normal or have found that work is now busier/quieter than usual or you have had to adapt to working whilst simultaneously home schooling the kids.

One observation that became apparent when we entered the strange world of lockdown was a return of community spirit.  It was admirable to see people helping neighbours with grocery shopping and even putting their own home economic skills into good use making food accessible and available to those who were self-isolating or shielding.  It was also understandable why those on furlough or who have lost most of their income, would seek alternative ways to make money by using their cooking/baking skills whilst staying at home. 

However, as all existing food business owners I’m sure will agree, starting-up a food production business is no easy task and brings with it huge responsibilities.  It’s not just as simple as make food and sell it – there are a raft of legal obligations and standards in place to ensure products are safe to consume, are made following strict hygiene regulations and that product information is presented to a standard that does not put people’s health at risk. 

First and foremost, if you wish to start preparing, cooking, storing, handling, distributing, supplying or selling food – you must be registered as a food business operator with your local authority. This is free to do, and the registration cannot be refused.

It is an offence to operate a food business without being registered – and this includes voluntary, charitable, people operating at home and via the internet as well as those on the high street.  It doesn’t exclude people who are operating from home even if the food is supplied for free.  If you are simply baking a couple of times a year for the school fete then this wouldn’t require registration but producing a tray bake once a month for a café for example, would.

Once registered, you may be inspected and given a food hygiene rating, so it’s important to ensure you have all the right procedures and record keeping in place from the start.  If you are new to the food industry it is most likely (and highly advisable) that you will require appropriate training/mentoring/experts to help you with the following start-up checklist:

  • Does the design & construction of your food preparation area meet legal requirements?
  • Have you invested in the right equipment?
  • Are you aware of the main food law requirements?
  • Do you keep written records of all the food ingredients you are buying or being supplied with?
  • Have you put food safety management procedures in place and are the records kept up to date?
  • Do you understand the principles of good food hygiene?
  • Have you considered health & safety arrangements?
  • Have you registered as self-employed?
  • Are you keeping records of all your business income and expenses?
  • Do you describe/label food and drink accurately and in compliance with legislation?
  • Are you aware of all the allergens in your products, including those present in your home for domestic use and are they communicated properly?
  • Is the packaging you are using suitable for food contact?
  • Do you have public liability and product liability insurances?
  • Do you need to apply for a licence to sell alcohol or hot food between 11pm and 5am?

The Food Standards Agency has developed this useful ‘Safer food better business’ pack specifically for small catering businesses.

I also asked some fellow North West food & drink businesses who have been there and done all the above to share their top tips for start-ups:

Do your research and then check, check and check again. Then get someone qualified to check it too! Don’t just copy existing similar products on the shelf as its 99% certain NOT to be suitable to copy especially where weights and measures and the Estimate symbol are concerned.” The Nowt Poncy Food Company Ltd, @nowtponcy

My tip is the Safer Foods Better Business website. It’s got all the documents and paperwork you need, and plenty of guidance. Make sure you register with the local authority, and use them for advice and guidance as well as inspection, they are there to help as well.” The Sunflower Kitchen, @TheSunflowerKi1

Ensure your labels are up to date with the necessary information and have the correct allergen advice.”  Farm Yard Ales, @farmyardales

Whilst this article aims to point out the main things for you to consider when starting a food business, the good news is that there is absolutely no reason why properly-registered people should not sell food they have prepared at home – it can be done safely!

With over two decades of food industry experience, Anne founded the award-winning AB FOOD NUTRITION to work closely with businesses of all sizes ensuring they can fully inform consumers about the ingredients, allergens and nutrition information legally, whilst also enabling them to make healthier dietary choices.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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Becoming an #SBS winner and #SBS Event 2020

On the 2nd December 2019, I became one of Theo Paphitis’ #SBS winners!  SBS means “Small Business Sunday” which was an initiative created by Theo in 2010.  Each Sunday evening, he invites small businesses to describe their businesses in one tweet using the #SBS hashtag.  Every Monday at 8pm, Theo then announces the lucky six who are then re-tweeted providing them with a massive boost in twitter followers, online visibility and for many, increased sales too!

This month, I attended the annual #SBS winners’ event at Birmingham International Convention Centre, where I was able to meet Theo in person and proudly collect my certificate confirming my win.

Anne from AB Food Nutrition collecting SBS Winners certificate from Theo Paphitis

Becoming a winner means I am part of the #SBS club and there are now 3000 of us from across all industries!  To put this into context, there have been 400,000 applications since the launch in 2010 meaning less than 1% of entries have successfully become winners – so I am absolutely delighted to be one of those!  Anyone with their own small business or working as a sole trader like me will appreciate how tough it can be at times and being able to turn to a group (more like a family really), for advice and information is so invaluable.  

Theo's tweet confirming AB Food Nutrition had become one of the six weekly winners

My first attendance at an #SBS event did not disappoint either.  This year was that little bit more special, with it being a celebration of 10 years since Theo first thought to launch the initiative from his kitchen table, but it was a truly inspiring day too.  We heard from excellent and engaging speakers giving us the low down on how to use Google and a whole host of free tools to help promote our businesses better online, how to improve mental well-being in the workplace as well as opportunities to visit breakout presentations from fellow #SBS winners sharing their expertise.  In the afternoon, Theo led an excellent fireside chat interview with fellow TV dragon Sara Davies.

All of this was free to attend too – including lunch!  I made sure I attended armed with my business cards and a bunch of my promotional pens which I left in the ‘food & drink’ networking area of the conference centre.  I am now connected to many more food and drink businesses thanks to this event.

I’m lucky I get to work with some fabulous small businesses and start-ups and so I highly recommend to all of you, that you enter #SBS every week and try to become a winner.  As a winner you will get to create a profile on the Small Business Sunday website and attend the annual #SBS networking event.

For more information on how to enter and increase your chances of winning take a look at https://www.theopaphitissbs.com. Good luck!

With over two decades of food industry experience, Anne founded AB FOOD NUTRITION to help brands ensure they are able to fully inform consumers about the ingredients, allergens and nutrition information legally, whilst also enabling them to make healthier dietary choices.  Anne is a professional, qualified and experienced food nutritionist. Contact us for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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