Department of Health's latest calorie counting initiative has fat chance of success
A view from Noelle McElhatton

Department of Health's latest calorie counting initiative has fat chance of success

Las Vegas. Famous for slot machines and Elvis weddings, less well-known for its mobility carts. Not, you understand, for people with disabilities. Unless that is, you count chronic obesity as a disability. While the US government is happy for people to bet in Nevada, it decided citizens shouldn't gamble with their lives.

Its ‘Responsibility Deal’ scheme saw Kellogg, PepsiCo, Unilever and 13 other mega food brands pledge to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the annual US food supply by the end of 2015.

Yet in the Land Of Plenty, the pursuit of happiness leaves a few people with Tom Cruise smiles and buff bodies but many millions more with the diet and exercise regime of Homer Simpson.

What chance of success does our Department Of Health’s latest calorie reduction push have?

Such encouragement for responsible food and drinks retailing is laudable, but the probable success of this initiative is best summed up in two words:  ‘wing’ and ‘prayer’.

That’s because anyone who’s been on, say, the Dukan diet knows the best way to cut calories, along with exercise, is to avoid processed, fat-rich, sugary foods altogether.

So you don’t choose a lower-calorie cereal - you don’t have cereals full stop.  Whole sections of the supermarket are forbidden.  Good for the figure, but not good for grocers’ bottom line.

Two questions, then.

Will tackling weight and fitness from the ‘supply side’ rather than the ‘demand side’ work?  I can’t see food and supermarket brands adopting anti-smoking style health warnings on their calorie-laden but profitable ready meals.

And will this, in the end, become more about being seen to do something?

Wholesome food brands such as Innocent don’t need a pledge to reducing calories, but then their products cost more.

The risk is that mainstream brands and grocers will use any calorie-reduction drive as window dressing, and not of the low-fat kind.

Noelle McElhatton is editor of Marketing