Writing for the Fuse Blog, Scott Lloyd and Karen Pearson discuss working with takeaway owners to encourage healthier cooking and menu options in takeaways.
Whether it is the Golden Cod or the Taste of India, independent hot food takeaways get a bad rap in Public Health circles. They serve food and drink that is predominantly higher in fat, salt and sugar and may contribute to noise pollution and other environmental ills. Furthermore, they may not be the best option for our beleaguered high streets as they tend to be shuttered up during the daytime.
Up to March 2018, for a variety of reasons (including health), 164 out of 325 Local Authorities (50.5%) have introduced powers through Local Plans or Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD) that aim to restrict the proliferation of hot food takeaways (Keeble et al. 2019).
But let’s be honest – that horse has already bolted. Analysis by Public Health England has shown that there is an average of 96.1 hot food takeaways per 100,000 population in England (Public Health England, 2018).
Where we work in Redcar and Cleveland, the Local Authority introduced a SPD in 2008 that restricted the percentage of hot food takeaways (A5 class use in planning terminology) in any commercial centre to no more than 5% – but even then, each commercial centre already had more than 5% hot food takeaways.
So we have to accept that hot food takeaways are here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. Many Local Authorities have implemented interventions such as award schemes that engage these businesses to support them to improve the healthiness of their food offerings, but with limited evaluation (Hillier-Brown et al. 2017). Indeed, we have a Food4Health award in Redcar and Cleveland, which is open to all out-of-home caterers. We were doing OK in engaging hot food takeaways but we wanted to try something different.
In 2015, the Foodscape team organised a Fuse Quarterly Research Meeting on developing interventions with out-of-home caterers. One of the presentations was by Louise Muhammad from Kirklees Council on the healthy takeaway masterclass that they had developed and delivered to over 20% of the eligible businesses on their patch. The masterclass was described as a three-hour session in which hot food takeaway owners and managers learn about the small, sustainable changes they can make so their food is a little healthier without costing a huge amount or that will actually save them money/generate new custom.
A few months later, we travelled down to Huddersfield to watch a masterclass being delivered. It was clear from the start that this was something that engaged businesses and had potential. The decision to repeat it in Redcar and Cleveland was easy.
We worked with the teams from Kirklees and Foodscape to deliver our first masterclass in May 2016. In line with what Kirklees do, we invited hot food takeaways with a food hygiene rating of three or above – the feeling was that any outlets with less than this really needed to concentrate on food hygiene first. In total, 181 invitations were sent out and 18 attended, representing 10% of those eligible – a figure that we practitioners were happy with (if not all the academics!).
The Foodscape team conducted a mixed methods evaluation to explore the acceptability and feasibility of the masterclass intervention (Hillier-Brown et al. 2019). The takeaways businesses that attended made a variety of pledges – the ones that required less effort and cost (e.g. reducing salt and sugar in pizza dough) were implemented more so than other more potentially costly or difficult changes (e.g. stocking reduced sugar tomato ketchup).
Has this work made the hot food takeaways in Redcar and Cleveland healthy? No it hasn’t. Like the rest of us, businesses owners have a living to make and will cater to what their customers want. But as an example, Carol – the owner of a sandwich shop in Guisborough who stars in the film above – pledged to take 10% of the sugar out of her baking. Did her customers notice? No. Did, this make her flapjacks ‘healthy’? Of course not but they are now a little healthier. Hence, has the masterclass via all the pledges made their food offerings a little healthier? Probably.
We have since delivered a further six masterclasses, with the offer extended to other out-of-home caterers such as restaurants. About 30% of all eligible takeaways in Redcar and Cleveland have now attended a masterclass, with follow up support provided by the Food4Health award.
Engaging with hot food takeaways can be difficult. We are now struggling to attract new businesses onto the masterclass and may hit a saturation point at 35% or 40% of those who are eligible. Some owners have other priorities and some may not accept the healthy eating messages. Also, some hot food takeaway owners are not even resident to the UK so engaging them is nigh on impossible. But we have to continue to try.
Another key learning point is that we need to work more closely with suppliers. The majority of masterclass attendees pledged to start using healthier alternatives, such as reduced sugar tomato ketchup or reduced salt soy sauce but they were unable to source these items from suppliers at a reasonable cost or not at all. Hence, wider work is needed with suppliers which, as one of the other Foodscape projects showed, is possible (Goffe et al. 2019).
But the masterclass is an acceptable and feasible intervention to engage a good proportion of hot food takeaways. We will continue to deliver it once or twice a year as long as there is sufficient demand. We’re hoping to run the next class in September, so lookout for that.
What the masterclass doesn’t do is engage the big operators such as McDonald’s and Just Eat, accepting that the latter works mainly through local independent takeaways (but what requirements can the national corporation specify on their local deliverers?). It’s likely that national work is needed with those corporations, continuing the good work of Public Health England and others. We also need to be mindful of the potential impact of “dark kitchens” – potentially the “satanic mills of our era”. But I’ll save that for another time…
Read the Fuse research brief to find out more about the Foodscape study.
- Keeble, M., Burgoine, T., White, M., Summerbell., C., Cummins. S., Adams, J. (2019). How does local government use the planning system to regulate hot food takeaway outlets? A census of current practice in England using document review. Health & Place, 57, 171 – 178. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2019.03.010
- Public Health England (2018). Fast Food Outlets: Density by Local Authority in England. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fast-food-outlets-density-by-local-authority-in-england [accessed 27 May 2019]
- Hillier-Brown, F.C., Summerbell C.D., Moore, H.J., Wrieden, W.L., Adams, J., Abraham, C., Adamson, A., Araújo-Soares, V., White, M., Lake, A.A. (2017). A description of interventions promoting healthier ready-to-eat meals (to eat in, to take away, or to be delivered) sold by specific food outlets in England: a systematic mapping and evidence synthesis. BMC Public Health, 17 (1), 93. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-016-3980-2
- Hillier-Brown, F. C., Lloyd, S., Muhammad, L., Goffe, L., Summerbell, C., Hildred, N. J., … Araújo-Soares, V. (2019). Feasibility and acceptability of a Takeaway Masterclass aimed at encouraging healthier cooking practices and menu options in takeaway food outlets. Public Health Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980019000648
- Goffe, L. Hillier-Brown, F., Hildred, N., Worsnop, M., Adams, J., Araújo-Soares, V., Penn, L., Wrieden, W., Summerbell, C.D., Lake, A.A., White, M., Adamson, A.J. (2019). Feasibility of working with a wholesale supplier to co-design and test acceptability of an intervention to promote smaller portions: an uncontrolled before-and-after study in British Fish & Chip shops. BMJ Open, 9 (2), e023441. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023441