New legislation mandating calorie disclosure on food items for businesses such as takeaways, restaurants and cafes came into force in England on 6 April 2022. The legislation, which forms part of the UK Government’s strategy to tackle obesity, aims to ensure people can make more informed, healthier choices when it comes to eating food out or ordering takeaways. The Scottish Government has launched a consultation to assess whether to introduce equivalent measures in Scotland although many food companies in Scotland have already taken this significant step voluntarily.

What is required under the new rules?

Businesses must display the energy content of the food in kilocalories (kcal) based on the portion size to which the calorie information relates. Calorie information will need to be displayed at the point a customer is making their food and drink choices. As well as listing the calories for each food item, menus and labels will also need to include a statement of the recommended daily calorie intake.

Who is affected by these changes?

The legislation mandates that large businesses with more than 250 employees are legally required to display calorie information on non-prepacked food and soft drinks. The types of businesses covered by the requirement include:

  • restaurants, fast food outlets, cafes, pubs and supermarkets;
  • home delivery services and third party apps;
  • cafes and takeaways within larger shops and venues, such as supermarkets, department stores, and entertainment venues such as cinemas;
  • specialist food stores, delicatessens, sweet shops and bakeries;
  • contract catering – for example, for events and canteens; and
  • domestic transport businesses such as planes, trains and, ferries.

What purpose is the legislation trying to serve

The legislation pursues a social and healthcare policy objective aimed at improving the health of the nation by enabling consumers to make more informed food choices based upon calorie content.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity and 40% of children leave primary school overweight or obese. Obesity is also the second biggest cause of cancer across the UK. Further, it is estimated that overweight and obesity related conditions across the UK cost the NHS £6.1 billion each year. It is hoped that providing information on the calorie content of foods will empower consumers to make healthier nutritional decisions which over the long-term can support a reduction in the economic burden to the NHS caused by obesity.

Enforcement and potential sanctions

The legislation will be enforced by local authorities with the Department of Health and Social Care supporting them with the additional costs of enforcing the policy. Local authorities are encouraged first to have conversations with those businesses who are not complying with the law.

Local authorities can issue improvement notices and any person who fails to comply with a notice could be guilty of an offence and could be fined £2,500.


Items that appear on a menu for less than 30 days are exempt and so it remains to be seen how restaurants that use seasonal ingredients or frequently update their menus may use this exemption. Also, alcoholic drinks that contain more than 1.2% ABV, condiments and pre-packed foods that are not made on site and all outside the reach of the legislation.

Regulatory burden

Firstly, the cost of implementation will require businesses to undertake expensive nutritional profiling of foods and re-design or print new menus to include calorie content labelling. There is also a concern that consumers may be put off ordering certain dishes when faced with their caloric value or indeed may be deterred from eating out entirely. According to the UK trade body, 'UK Hospitality', the new legislation imposes a disproportionate regulatory and costs burden on the hospitality sector that outweighs the perceived health improvement benefit passed on to consumers.

UK Hospitality has also raised the valid concern that the compliance costs further compound the significant pressures facing the sector. Implementation of the new rules comes at a time when the industry is endeavouring to recuperate pandemic losses whilst juggling other major challenges such as higher energy costs, (post Brexit) supply chain disruption leading to higher costs of ingredients (or shortages thereof), rising inflation and labour shortages.

Numbers don't give the full story

A number of leading restaurants have further noted that calorie labelling is an unsophisticated measure for encouraging healthier food choices. For example, as Hawksmoor co-founder Will Beckett explains, a standard serving of high fibre (low fat) cereal with a banana contains approximately the same number of calories as a hamburger. Clearly the nutrient profile of these two meals would be very different but the calorie content is similar. Further, the mandatory disclosure statement referencing the recommended daily calorie intake is arbitrary and fails to take into account important differentiating characteristics such as the age, weight, height or individual exercise habits.

The problem therefore is that calorie labelling can be misleading as it presents an isolated summary of the food's perceived 'healthiness' and fails to present the full nutrient profile of the food.