UKHospitality: Spring in your step?

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, is not looking forward to April – particularly the incoming labelling legislation...

Contract caterers and their clients, not to mention the rest of the hospitality industry, must be tempted to swear loudly when they see or hear April mentioned. Everything seems to be coming to a head in April – everything bad for business, that is.

Our sector faces huge challenges as it struggles to emerge from the devastation wrought by Covid, and this is not being helped by a series of potentially crippling hurdles set to appear in the spring. These include staff shortages, operating cost pressures, crippling debt levels and depleted cash reserves, plus the triple-whammy of April VAT, rents and business rates increases.

And, of course, it’ll be April – XXXX!, pardon my French – when the Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021 come into force. These will require businesses with more than 250 employees to display calories for food and drinks under 1.2% abv.

Hospitality has already made impressive progress in voluntarily offering healthy options based on what diners want to see on menus. What calorie labelling can do, though – with the cooperation of our sector – is help guide people gently towards healthier eating choices, though this legislation will ultimately play a small part in the wider efforts to reduce obesity.  

So, while the industry is working hard to ensure it is prepared and able to comply with the new regulations, UKHospitality has long called for a delay to its implementation. Indeed, we’re currently calling for an enforcement grace period post-April to allow businesses breathing space in which to implement the new rules, without the risk of unnecessary enforcement action from day one.

It’s completely unfair to expect businesses that have barely survived the last two years to all of a sudden introduce complicated and costly new labelling when they’ve much more pressing matters to attend to – recouping their losses of the past 24-months, for a start, and in many cases without the staff to do even that. So, we believe that at least six months of non-enforcement is required, enabling hard-pressed contract caterers to get to grips with the legislation, and to ensure that they’re not unduly punished should they fall foul of the new rules, particularly when they’re only just starting out on the road to recovery.

There also needs to be open and honest dialogue between hospitality businesses and their local authorities, with councils acknowledging the difficulties operators will surely face when trying to comply with the new rules. And when and where there is enforcement, there must be a consistent approach across the country. It would be very wrong to see businesses in one region punished more harshly than those in another.

But whenever calorie labelling comes into effect, the industry must be ready for it, so we’ve produced guidance on the new calorie labelling legislation, which is intended to help affected businesses and to ensure consistent enforcement. That’s why we’ve made it available to anyone in the sector, not just to UKHospitality members, on our website.

Compiled with the UKHospitality Nutrition Group, the guidance includes a summary of the legislation and answers to frequently asked questions. And, given the complexity of handling the new measures, at a time when operators are already stretched to breaking point, the advice will be updated on a rolling basis as additional queries and details emerge.

April. Dontcha just love it?

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