Watching what the consumer eats

Eating out is a significant contributor to the nation’s intake of food. As a result, and quite rightly, eating out is scanned carefully by many agencies to see how much it contributes to the health, and the ill-health, of the consumer.

According to independent sources, about 46% of men in England and 32% of women are overweight, and an additional 17% of men and 21% of women are obese. Not only that, but the number of people who are overweight or obese is increasing. The percentage of adults who are obese has roughly doubled since the mid 1980s.

The prevalence of obesity increases with age. In 1996, around 13% of eight-year-olds and 17% of 15-year-olds in England were obese. These levels of childhood obesity are likely to exacerbate the trend towards increased overweight and obesity in the adult population. Compared to thin children, obese children have a two-fold increase in the risk of becoming overweight adults.

Food wholesalers may think the state of the nation’s health and what people choose to eat out of home is not a concern. But it is if a decision to contribute to a healthier lifestyle influences the buying decisions of those who sell out of home food to the public. If the final customer is looking for healthier foods with lower fat, sugar and salt content, then that is what the customers of food wholesalers are going to be increasingly looking for in the depot aisles.

Horizons estimates that British consumers eat out close to nine billion times a year. And that translates into an average of almost 2.8 meals a week, in outlets ranging from schools to hotels.

In 2005, the British public spent pound;35.8bn on eating meals outside the home and this excludes food such as confectionery and savoury snacks bought in retail shops and consumed away from home.

The National Food Survey, carried out annually by the Office for National Statistics, shows that eating out provides each person with 1,155 calories every week, which is 8.5% of the energy intake of the average person in the UK excluding confectionery, alcohol and other cold drinks. Yet eating out only accounts for 6.3% of the weight of food consumed.

In other words, food consumed out of home has more calories per mouthful than food eaten at home. This is because it is especially high in sugar and to a lesser degree other carbohydrates and fat than food eaten at home.

Sugar eaten out of home, and especially refined sugar, contributes 10.1% of the average person’s daily intake of sugar. Most of this is contributed by the large quantities of chocolate and sugar confectionery that are bought and consumed away from home.

Fat eaten out of home contributes a relatively low 7.7% of daily fat intake.

Soft drinks are the major contributor to the average daily out of home energy intake. Soft drinks, together with sandwiches, especially cheese, meat and chicken sandwiches, plus chips, sausages, sponge cakes and desserts, account for more than one in every four calories eaten out of home.

Sausage, eggs and chips – not necessarily eaten together – are responsible for 12.5% of out of home fat intake. Over 22% of the cholesterol digested out of home comes from eggs.

Sausages and bread are notable for the amount of salt they provide in the eating out of home diet.

For many people, the food consumed away from home is a significant contributor to the person’s total food intake.

While the foodservice sector serves a third of the population’s daytime meals, the sector is responsible for all of the nation’s discretionary meals eaten out of home. That figure amounts to five billion meals each year – or 1.6 meals per person every week served in restaurants, hotels, pubs, takeaways and fast food outlets.

There is a strong argument which says the operator has a responsibility to ensure that the food they serve has to bear in mind the customer’s needs and vulnerabilities. This would also apply when the customer is of a particular inclination to consume a well-above average proportion of daily food intake in a particular type of outlet.

Although there are different views, what is undeniable is that eating out is a discretionary spend, subject to fashion and lifestyle change. Food wholesalers are the bridge between the provider and the public and stocking policy would do well to be mindful of public concerns.

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=== The 10 items that contribute most to energy intake when eating out ===

soft drinks

savoury potato snacks

meat-based, white bread/roll

french fries

plain sausages

cheese-based, white bread/roll

“other” sponge cakes/desserts

chicken/turkey-based white bread/roll

large or double burgers

meat pies pasties

Source: Horizons based on ONS

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