New 'Responsibility Deal' for the food industry

It’s divide or conquer for the Government’s new ‘Responsibility Deal’ for the food industry, which is voluntary and aims to makes food retailers more responsible towards the general public, including advertising the calorie count on their menus. The deal seems to have split the industry down the middle, if initial reaction is anything to go by.

Food giants such as McDonalds, KFC, Harvester and Pizza Hut are behind the scheme; however, there are many others that are not behind the scheme. These include Pizza Express, Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge and Subway, although Subway will be introducing its own system advising customers. Those restaurants that do not comply, however, may face the wrath of the consumer – the public may just vote with their feet and eat somewhere else.

Providing information about calories may be taking a risk. It is unclear whether this will lead to an increase in sales or whether it will put customers off. With the proliferation of internet sites where customers can directly compare or ask for opinions on a certain food chain's policies, compliance may be the only move by which these companies remain a top choice for more calorie-conscious people looking to eat out. On the internet and through social media in particular, there are more and more people writing product reviews and expecting detailed product information when it comes to buying or making meals. The demand for more responsible and open restaurant policies is an issue attracting increasingly vocal internet attention and influencing other customers' choices more than ever about whether to eat in or go out. There is also a cost of checking the calories, according to The Real Greek, a chain of London eateries that was the first to adopt a Food Standards Agency scheme that was also voluntary. A spokesperson for the chain said that sales went up, but it was unclear whether it was as a result of the scheme itself, or positive publicity.

The Brand Union’s Toby Southgate thinks that the risks are worth taking, providing the restaurants handle the scheme sensitively, using the example of McDonalds, which has seen a positive message as a result of disclosing calorie counts. It remains to be seen whether those calorie-conscious retailers reap the rewards at the tills, however, its food for thought for the others as to whether, if they don’t follow suit, the law will get tougher on them as a result.