FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal
Some fine-dining restaurants have separate menus for low-calorie food and also offer sugar-free options on demand.
“Declaring details of calorie intake and nutrition information ensures that consumers are informed. These things are already part of labelling norms for packaged food,” said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
But Agarwal doesn’t want to make this mandatory—at least, not yet.
“To start with, let the big ones come forward and do this voluntarily.”
Some fine-dining restaurants, especially those at five-star hotels, have separate menus for low-calorie food and also offer sugar-free options on demand. But they do not declare calorific and nutrition details.
The Indian food regulator’s move is probably inspired by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), which in December 2014 notified rules for the so-called Nutrition Labelling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments. By 5 May 2017, some categories of restaurants in the US will have to comply with these.
FSSAI is likely to follow the USFDA standards, when it decides to notify rules, although there is no plan to do this immediately.
“We are working with FSSAI and disclosing information on nutrition and calorie intake will not be an issue,” said a spokesperson for the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India that has 1,700 members across nine states.
Riyaaz Amlani, president, National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI) isn’t as enthusiastic about the idea. “Making it voluntary may make sense. But if it is mandatory, compliance may be an issue. Declaration of nutrition information and calorie details will be a huge task. Even in the western countries, it is not a practice,” said Amlani, who owns Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality Pvt. Ltd that runs popular restaurant and bar and cafe chains such as Smoke House Deli and Social.
The food services market in India is projected to grow to Rs4.98 trillion by 2021, expanding at an annual average rate of 10%, from Rs3.09 trillion in 2016, according to a NRAI-Technopak report.
The food regulator is also working on standards for organic food, including grains. These will be notified by the end of February, Agarwal said.
Organic food is a relatively new phenomenon in India and most of this market is unorganized at present.
The size of the organic food market, most of which is for pulses and grains, was estimated at $0.36 billion in 2014 but is projected to grow at 25-30% a year to $1.36 billion by 2020, according to an October-2015 study by industry lobby group Assocham and research firm TechSci Research.