Social responsibility, food and Government: the responsibility deal

The responsibility deal signed by the UK governement, backed by 170 companies such as Tesco, Unilever, Sainsbury’s, Carlsberg and Mars and Diageo, is going to rise a lot of controversy for a long time.

A key pledge outlined in the deal is the development of a new sponsorship code on responsible drinking while McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC have agreed to place calories on their menus from September this year.

Other pledges include:
– Reducing salt in food so people eat 1g less per day by the end of 2012
– Removal of artificial trans-fats by the end of the year
– Rolling out Change4Life branding to 1,000 convenience stores

Achieving clear unit labelling on more than 80% of alcohol by 2013 is also pledged but this was a commitment made last year by drinks brands under work initiated by the last government.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘Public health is everyone’s responsibility and there is a role for all of us, working in partnership, to tackle these challenges.’ He claimed that regulation is ‘costly and is often only determined at an EU-wide level anyway’.

ISBA’s director of public affairs Ian Twinn also adds “It has also been inclusive – businesses have volunteered to reinforce public health through their product development and marketing and health pressure groups have pledged to contribute through their campaigning activities.

The responsibility deal seems a great step toward the introduction of a more socially responsible fast-food industry, but not all the companies do have the same advise. Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia and Strada are expected to follow Subway and PizzaExpress by not signing up to the government’s health initiative. Subway, which already provides calorie counts on in-store posters, said the scheme was unsuitable for its stores. It is conducting a trial intended to establish the most effective way of displaying the information.

Meanwhile, a PizzaExpress source argued that displaying calorie levels is not consumer-friendly and clutters its menus.

One factor that will no doubt deter businesses, particularly smaller inde-pendents, is the costs involved. London restaurant chain The Real Greek says that, on average, it costs about £100 to test and certify each dish.

Being one of the first to make a move has its risks, not least the fear of being criticized in the press for selling high-calorie-content food. On the other side, being part of a movement that gives consumers greater transparency can deliver positive press coverage.

Toby Southgate, managing director of branding agency The Brand Union, believes the risks are worth taking. ‘Those brands that adopt early could win out, provided they handle the move carefully,’ he says.

Southgate cites McDonald’s, which has made efforts to ‘re-educate’ its con-sumers about healthier eating, arguing that disclosing calories on its menu board could provide incentive to consumption. (Source: BrandRepublic)

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