It’s time to introduce calories on menus

Placing calories on menus allows people to make informed choices about what they consume, writes ShelfLife editor, Fionnuala Carolan
Placing calories on menus allows people to make informed choices about what they consume, writes ShelfLife editor, Fionnuala Carolan

Fionnuala Carolan outlines why customers will thank you for including the calorie content of foods on your menus



8 August 2012

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Here are some sobering statistics; Ireland currently has the second highest rate of obesity in Europe; more than one out of three Irish men are overweight, with one in five obese. One-third of Irish women are overweight, and one in six obese. We have a national crisis on our hands and something needs to be done about it.

Recent research from Unilever revealed that 72% of Irish consumers are unsure of their recommended daily calorie intake indicating that they can’t decipher a healthy option on a menu from a non-healthy option.

Earlier this summer the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published the findings of its national consultation on displaying calories on menus in Ireland. It recommended the introduction of a calorie menu-labelling scheme for food service businesses on a voluntary basis initially. The consultation received over 3,000 submissions and almost 80% of these were from consumers. The findings revealed that 96% of consumers are in favour of calorie menu labelling in all or some food outlets, with 89% saying that calories should be displayed beside the price of food and drink items on the menu.

Introducing calories on menus has divided public opinion considerably. The argument against putting calories on menus has come mainly from the restaurant industry because they claim that it would cost around €5,000 for a restaurant to implement this scheme. They also argued that it was not feasible because they often don’t know what will be on the menu until the day in question. However Unilever has come up with a viable solution to combat this problem.

Unilever Food Solutions launched Seductive Nutrition this month as part of its response to the global obesity crisis. It has developed a free tool that can be accessed on the web to calculate the calories contained in foods. This calorie calculator allows chefs to experiment with different ingredients and see how they can affect the calories of a dish. They can search for specific foods and create a dish from scratch by adjusting the weights of different ingredients. There is also a database of popular dishes tailored to different types of catering outlets. This means that there is no real reason for food service operators not to put calories on menus despite the initial fee of updating signage.

Almost a quarter of Irish meals are now eaten outside of the home and it is difficult for people to make healthy choices when they don’t know what they should be eating. 

Even if this initiative goes a small way to improving the health of the nation, it will be well worth it. Why not spend a couple of hours checking out this new tool and updating your menus? Your customers will thank you for it.

Fionnuala Carolan






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