The pub sector has challenged the logic of introducing calorie labelling for on-trade drinks at a time when many operators in the hospitality industry are battling for survival.

According to a leaked report the government is proposing that calorie counts be displayed for all beer, wine and spirits served in the larger out-of-home businesses.

Public health minister Jo Churchill has reportedly told colleagues she would like to launch a 12-week consultation on the plans, which would force businesses employing 250 or more people to publish the information.

It is understood that menus or pump labels would have to carry the information, with the labelling drive to cover pre-packaged drinks and those served on draught or in a glass.

In a policy paper last July, the Department for Health and Social Care said it planned to consult on its “intention to make companies provide calorie labelling on alcohol”.

Commenting on the current speculation around these proposals, a government spokesperson said: “As outlined in our Obesity Strategy, we’ll be launching a consultation soon on mandatory calorie labelling on alcohol - no decisions have yet been taken.”

The British Beer & Pub Association said hit out at the proposals. Chief executive Emma McClarkin labelled the proposals as “ludicrous – and especially outrageous at this difficult time”.

“After more than a year of being forced to close fully or operate under severe loss-making restrictions, now is not the time to heap burdensome and expensive regulation on our pubs,” she said.

“Our pubs are on their knees and the Government already knows this. Calorie labelling would be kicking pubs and brewers when they are down.”

Patrick Dardis, chief executive at Young’s told MCA the plans were “a nonsense and so unexpected as we assumed common sense would prevail”. He said the health lobby and Matt Hancock were determined to create a nanny state.

“It will of course be expensive and overbearing in terms of standardising great British beer brands,” he added. “Enough is enough.”

Simon Longbottom, chief executive, Stonegate Pub Company said thatat time when business are concentrating on reopening and welcoming back customers this is a further potential blow to the sector adding additional cost and bureaucracy.

”Customers visit pubs and bars to relax, escape, celebrate and take a step away from daily pressures and are unlikely to want to be bombarded with calorie information. It is a complex area to tackle and we urge government to consult with the industry to find workable solutions before pressing ahead with additional red tape,” he told MCA.

While William Lees-Jones, managing director at JW Lees said that althought it didn’t come as a shock, ”it’s not as if we haven’t got a lot on our plates right now”. From its point of view ”we’ve enough on right now and we hope that the government will give us a little more time to get our businesses back on the road before introducing more new bureaucracy”.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive, UKHospitality, said: “If true, these proposals are absurd at a time when pubs and other hospitality businesses are struggling to survive. The last thing the sector needs after prolonged periods of forced closure is unnecessary red tape that creates yet more burdens for operators, who are simply desperate to get back to running their businesses.”

While nightclub and bar operator Rekom UK was expecting such a consultation, procurement director Nicola Romeo said the difficulty would be in ensuring the relevant information is communicated effectively and accurately, adding that for drinks like cocktails it would add complexity to the menu process.

“Given plenty of notice on the date change we could roll out the calorie addition to menu reprints as and when they happen. A hard and fast date to change that doesn’t coincide with a menu cycle will cost us upwards of £10k,” she added.

Public Health England have previously announced that they would be introducing legislation to require large out-of-home food businesses, including restaurants, cafés and takeaways with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food they sell.