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Cafe chains promise to reduce salt and fat

The UK's biggest coffee shops have promised to take salt and fat out of sandwiches and cakes eaten by tens of millions of customers as part of a new campaign against junk food.

Seven chains — Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Pret A Manger, Caffè Nero, Eat, Greggs and BB's — have made public commitments to change hundreds of products that contribute to heart disease and obesity. Many of the chains have outlets in Northern Ireland

The moves could improve the health of tens of millions of customers who are unwittingly consuming high-calorie foods. At present nutritional information is not displayed in coffee shops' “freshly made products”, meaning that many customers are unaware of the threat posed by sandwiches, snacks and pastries loaded with salt and saturated fat.

A large coffee and a muffin at Costa Coffee or Starbucks, for instance, can contain more than 1,000 calories — around half of an adult's recommended daily intake — while other chains such as Pret A Manger have been criticised for selling mayonnaise-heavy sandwiches.

Among the commitments are that:

  • Pret a Manger will for the first time display calorie counts
  • Starbucks review its range and change at least 10 best-selling products
  • Eat will reduce salt in soups and make sandwiches and salads healthier
  • Costa Coffee will sell only food rated healthy by the FSA
  • Greggs will remove hydrogenated fat, artificial colourings and flavourings from its pies

Each commitment given by the chains will be reviewed by the FSA every six months as part of a rolling programme to transform the health of coffee shops.

The agency is targeting the £1bn-a-year coffeeshop business in an attempt to reform takeaway and restaurant meals, which now account for one quarter of the food we eat.

Officials are concerned that improvements made by shops and supermarkets to reduce salt, sugar and fat will be undermined if customers get a taste for more unhealthy food at cafés. Nutritionists from the FSA have been working with the chains to show them how they can cut harmful nutrients by employing simple techniques like switching from full-fat to semi-skimmed milk and cooking chicken without skin.

Behind the scenes there's quite a bit of reformulation work going on

Changes are likely to be introduced gradually to ensure that customers do not notice a change in the taste of their favourite snacks and sandwiches.

The FSA's chief executive, Tim Smith said: “Behind the scenes there's quite a bit of reformulation work going on. Whether the sandwich shop chooses then to brag about that or make it a marketing advantage, I don't think we're so interested in. But some of the changes will be invisible, so your BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) might be a BLT, but it might have lower-salt bread, low-fat mayonnaise and less fatty bacon.”

The Public Health minister Dawn Primarolo said: “These commitments will help people make healthier choices.”

Belfast Telegraph