Out to Lunch league table exposes the truth behind food at visitor attractions
19 October 2016
TAKING YOUR FAMILY FOR A RIDE – Out to Lunch league table exposes the truth behind food served at popular family attractions
A new league table ranking children’s food and drink at the UK’s top visitor attractions is published today (19 October) by the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign. Working with an army of ‘secret diner’ parents, the Soil Association has uncovered unhealthy pre-packed lunchboxes, dodgy ingredients, and a lack of transparency about food sourcing practices in the UK’s most popular museums, art galleries, zoos, visitor centres, and theme parks, as well as some good food at reasonable prices.
The survey found children’s lunchboxes lacking in healthy options and overloaded with sugar. A lunchbox at London Zoo included up to 36g of sugar – 189% of a child’s daily sugar allowance.
Attractions served burgers flavoured with monosodium glutamate (MSG) and meals that included E-numbers linked to negative effects on children’s behaviours (E120, E123, E131, E151).1
75% of children’s lunchboxes surveyed didn’t include any veg or salad options.
The British Museum, the most popular attraction in Britain, declined to confirm whether it uses any British produce or local ingredients. Only a minority of attractions said they used British ingredients throughout their menus.
The Natural History Museum and Brighton Pier scored in joint last place in the league table. The Eden Project scored in first place.
The survey found cost was no barrier to good food – children’s meals at the five bottom scoring attractions were on average more than £1 more expensive than children’s meals at the five top scoring attractions. The Out to Lunch campaign has uncovered a lack of healthy choices for children at popular family attractions. 75% of children’s lunchboxes didn’t include any veg or salad options. 50% of attractions offered lunchboxes including muffins, cakes and sweet treats, but no fresh fruit. These findings come weeks after the Government announced new plans to tackle childhood obesity.2
Secret diner parents reported that while sugary drinks were readily available, few attractions were prominently providing free fresh drinking water for children. When secret diner parents at 900-acre Alton Towers asked for a glass of tap water, they were refused and told to buy a bottle from the restaurant. Secret diners at Stonehenge commented that free drinking water was available for dogs but not families. At no attractions were healthy drinks the normal option in vending machines.
Millions of families visit the UK’s iconic visitor attractions during the school holidays. Parents say that food on offer isn’t up to scratch – only 14% of parents say that they think that children’s food at popular attractions is good enough.3
Rob Percival, Soil Association Policy Officer, said: “Visitor attractions are making life hard for parents who want to enjoy a healthy and happy day out. Lunchboxes loaded with sugar and unimaginative ultra-processed foods are the norm. So long as junk-filled lunchboxes continue to dominate family outings, parents will have a hard time convincing their children that healthy food can be a treat too.”
The Eden Project (1st place) and Chester Zoo (2nd place) topped the league table. Both attractions offered healthier meal choices. Chester Zoo served locally sourced milk and farm assured meat. All meals at the Eden Project were freshly prepared and included locally sourced meat and vegetables.
An interactive league table profiling each attraction can be viewed on the Soil Association website: http://www.soilassociation.org/outtolunch
The survey also found:
A lack of transparency over ingredient provenance and quality, with 50% of attractions failing to come clean about where they sourced their ingredients, including whether they used any British or local produce.
The Natural History Museum ranked in last place, having declined to disclose information regarding the provenance and environmental sustainability of its food. The Museum declined to comment on whether it serves sustainable fish, seasonal produce, or whether it takes action on food waste. The Museum menu and website make no statements regarding ingredient provenance, seasonality or sustainability.
Other attractions were found to be serving chips pre-prepared in Holland, chicken nuggets shipped over from Thailand, and potatoes pre-mashed in Belgium.
The Out to Lunch campaign is calling on attractions to take five simple steps to improve the food and experience they offer to children and families:
Ensure that all children’s lunchboxes and main meals include a portion of veg or salad
Ditch unimaginative ultra-processed foods and focus more on fresh ingredients
Protect parents from an over-abundance of sweet treats, which make it harder to enjoy a healthy and happy day out
Make free fresh drinking water available to families throughout their visit
Support British farmers by buying the best of British produce, including organic
For media enquiries, please contact:
Hayley Coristine Press Officer: 0117 314 5170 / 0746 869 3558 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
Rob Percival, Soil Association Policy Officer, said: “It is inexcusable that iconic British attractions are failing to come clean about whether they serve British ingredients. Few attractions feel it is priority to let their customers know where their food has come from, or whether they are taking steps to be environmentally sustainable. The lack of transparency is indefensible.”
Andrew Holden, Purchasing Director at Eden Project, said: “Good food is at the heart of the Eden Project experience. We make sure that meals are freshly prepared and that our ingredients are responsibly sourced, fairly traded, organic, local, and seasonal. We’re delighted to have topped the Soil Association's Out to Lunch league table.”
Anya Hart-Dyke, Out to Lunch secret diner parent, said: “I've lost count of the lunchboxes and children's meals we've encountered on family days out that I just won't consider buying for my child – as a parent you get used to the disappointment. Healthy, real food must be a priority for family attractions – I'd be far more likely to come back if I knew my child would get some proper food.”
More detail on the Out to Lunch league table 2016
The Out to Lunch survey found some of the most popular attractions serve some of the worst food – the five bottom scoring attractions receive 4.5 times as many visitors each year, compared with the five top scoring attractions.
No attractions provided any healthy eating guidance on the menu or any indication of what the healthier choice would be.
The majority of attractions offered healthier adult food, compared with their children’s food – only three of twenty attractions made sure that every child’s hot meal included a portion of veg.
A lunchbox at London Zoo included up to 36g of sugar – 189% of a child’s daily sugar allowance. Kiosks in the Zoo sell fizzy drinks at a cheaper price than water. The Zoo offers a range of ZSL own-brand sweets, marketed directly at children, with fudge, cola bottles, and brightly coloured lollies positioned at child height for small hands to grab.
Only three attractions could reliably tell secret diner parents where their meat came from (Eden Project, Chester Zoo, Durham Cathedral).
The Soil Association surveyed the food and drink on offer at 20 of the UK’s most popular family attractions, covering all English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, ranking their performance in an online league table.
Research is undertaken by secret diner parents, desk-based menu reviews, and a questionnaire that attractions are invited to fill out and return.
The Out to Lunch survey asks whether attractions are providing:
A healthy choice – by providing variety and making healthy eating easy
Fresh food you can trust – by serving fresh, traceable, sustainable and ethically sourced food
A family friendly experience – by welcoming children and accommodating parent needs
The survey scoring criteria have been designed to reflect parent priorities (informed by nationally representative surveys of parent opinions) and to reflect national best practice guidelines, including the School Food Standards.
 Additives among those linked to a negative effect on children’s behaviour by the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group and 2007 Southampton University research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.
 Department of Health, Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, 2016
 A survey of 1,000 self-selecting parents from across the UK conducted by the Soil Association in June 2016.
The Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign launched in 2013 and has published two league tables reviewing the food and drink offered to children in UK high street restaurant chains. Out to Lunch has worked with Prezzo, Harvester, Strada, and Jamie’s Italian to improve over 6 million meal options served to children every year.
The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by farmers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists to promote the connection between the health of the soil, food, animals, people and the environment. Today the Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. Its Chief Executive is Helen Browning, and Chair of Trustees is Dennis Overton.
Soil Association Certification is a wholly owned subsidiary with an independent board which certifies over 70% of all organic products sold in the UK. Certifying organic food and farming since 1973, and more recently, organic textiles, health and beauty products, the team has built up extensive practical experience and provides unrivalled support before, during and after certification. It also audits other schemes within catering and forestry, including the Food for Life Catering Mark, and the FSC and PEFC forestry standards internationally, delivering assurances of quality and provenance that industry and consumers can trust. To find out more visit www.soilassociation.org