One of Scotland’s largest independent restaurant groups has warned that implementing mandatory calorie counts on menus could present a ‘massive challenge’ for the industry.

As part of its strategy to reduce obesity levels, in 2022 the Scottish Government conducted a nationwide consultation on proposals which could see food outlets forced to list calorie information for all items sold.

An analysis report on Mandatory Calorie Labelling in the Out Of Home (OOH) sector published in May 2023 later claimed that ‘eating out of home’ has been associated with obesity, with evidence that food obtained from fast food outlets or takeaways is associated with higher calorie intakes.

It was suggested that mandating calorie labelling at the point of choice could provide the opportunity for the OOH sector to make ‘a key contribution’ in improving Scotland’s dietary health.

Similar regulations were introduced in England in April 2022, making calorie labelling mandatory across the out-of-home food sector and affecting businesses which employ 250 or more people.

Mark Micotti, brand manager at DRG Restaurant Group which owns brands including Di Maggio’s, Café Andaluz and Amarone has this week raised fresh concerns over the implications this would have for Scotland’s hospitality sector amid a cost of living crisis.

“From an operational perspective, it’s a massive challenge for our industry,” he said.

“For a sizable operation like DRG it will be a huge cost in time and money.

“Undoubtedly, calculating calories would be another investment in a software package or service, adding to the ever-growing costs for restaurant operators.” 

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The Herald: Pictured: The DRG Group operates across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and NewcastlePictured: The DRG Group operates across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Newcastle (Image: Supplied)

Mr Micotti’s comments days after eating disorder campaigners urged the Scottish Government against ‘dangerous’ calorie labelling on menus, which has already been implemented by chain outlets such as Pret A Manger or Dominos pizza across all UK stores.

Research carried out by Public Health Scotland (PHS) has shown that people with lived experience of eating disorders were worried that being routinely exposed to calorie information in restaurants, takeaways and shops would put them at increased risk of relapse.

The study, based on in-depth interviews with 18 people in recovery from conditions including anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder, found that “frequently mentioned that the provision of calorie information, particularly on menus and at the point of service, could be highly triggering".

Feedback also suggested that displaying calories on menus could "encourage conversations centred around restricting intake" - or "diet-talk" - while eating out with people who were unaware of their history of disordered eating.

Proposed plans would also cover vending machines, delis, workplace canteens, online food delivery services, and snack trolleys on trains.

The report stated: "For those with a history of eating disorders, seeing calorie information could lead to heightened anxiety, negative body image, and a resurgence of disordered eating behaviours.

"Several participants shared instances where they felt overwhelmed and distressed upon encountering calorie information, leading them to avoid certain foods or even skip meals altogether to avoid the stress it induced".

Mr Micotti, who was invited to feed into the consultation process of calorie legislation for the Scottish Government in 2021, continued: “I do question if customers want to see calories written down; going out for dinner is supposed to be a treat and isn’t the time to be forced to consider calories. 

“As we’ve seen on menus down south, the calorie information is an unmissable part of the description, which affects eating choices whether diners need or want it.

“On packaged foods, a conscious decision must be made to find nutritional information.

“Perhaps the best alternative is offering a separate menu, available on request, with the details for those who do need help in choosing the right options for them.”

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Public health campaigners including Obesity Action Scotland (OAS) have previously backed the proposals for mandatory listing of calorie information on menus, reporting “high levels of public support”.

The Herald: Pictured: Mr Micotti argues that 'calories don't tell the full story'Pictured: Mr Micotti argues that 'calories don't tell the full story' (Image: Stock)

Polling conducted by the independent organisation in 2022 showed 60% in favour of the decision while only 20% were opposed.

Mr Micotti, however, argues that printing only the total calorific value may not provide consumers with enough information to encourage an informed dietary decision.

He said: “Calories don’t tell the full story; a handful of nuts might have more calories than a chicken nugget, but the former has far more nutritional value.

“It’s not always the healthiest options that have the lowest calories."

In response to these comments, the Scottish Government has said it will continue to consult with the hospitality sector before a decision is made on mandatory calorie labelling.

A spokesperson stated: “Ahead of any decision on mandating calorie labelling, we will have further discussions with the hospitality sector.

“This is consistent with the Scottish Government’s New Deal for Business and we are committed to taking the needs of business and industry into account during the policy-making process.”