UKHospitality: Home truths

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, on how to promote healthy eating in the out of home sector.

UKHospitality member companies – from across all parts of an incredibly diverse sector that includes contract catering – put a huge amount of effort into, and invest significant resources in, nutrition and healthy eating. They do it because there’s a genuine desire to give customers the best and widest possible choices, whether they’re enjoying a meal out, having lunch at the office or at business events, or simply eating on the go.

All of this is, of course, eating ‘out of home’. And it’s largely because of the huge range and variety that our industry is able to offer that people choose to do it, and continue to enjoy doing it.

It’s not just about providing choice and variety, though – ensuring that there are healthy options within the vast array of food available has long been a priority for our sector. Ways in which hospitality businesses have achieved this include menu design and using the sort of language that helps promote healthier choices; portion sizes (which can deliver associated reductions in calories, salt and sugar, as well as reducing food waste); and the reformulation of menu options themselves.

A positive and proactive approach from operators, then. However, there remain significant challenges concerning regulation of the out of home sector. These include just how exactly it operates, the huge variety of business models that exist within it, the differing ways in which they all serve food, and, crucially, how, when and why customers consume food in an out of home setting.

Past government interventions have often looked to simply transpose existing obesity and health policies from other sectors to the out of home industry, without fully assessing the effectiveness of doing so. We want to ensure that if regulation is imposed on the sector, it includes the right kind of requirements that are bespoke to hospitality. We believe that it’s beneficial for operators and the likes of the contract caterers supplying them, alongside UKHospitality, to help policymakers shape a process that understands how the sector operates and how its customers engage with it.

Actually – and happily – this is already happening, because the out of home sector is working closely with government as part of the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP). The FDTP sees the industry supply chain and government involved in a process to develop new and accurate measurement systems – or metrics, if you prefer – that reflect real-life business and customer practice. The aim is to inform future evidence-based policymaking concerning health and economics.

The more accurately data and metrics can reflect real-world business operations, the more beneficial this is to decision-making around any future policy interventions in the out of home eating sector. This is essential if out of home operators are to continue to invest their time, effort and resources in ensuring that their customers can carry on enjoying healthy and nutritious food – whenever and wherever that may be.

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