Restaurants and pubs may be required to list calories on their menus from spring next year, following the publication of new research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) today.

The FSA said that following positive results from 21 companies involved in calorie labelling trials it would launch a consultation that will close on 11 March 2010, with details of a final scheme to be published in spring 2010.

The outcome of the consultation, which will ask for views from both the industry and consumers, will decide on how calorie information will appear in eating and drinking out outlets and will set guidelines for businesses wanting to join the initiative.

Under the current proposals, calorie labelling will be introduced on a voluntary basis by restaurants, coffee and sandwich shops and pubs and will allow customers to see the number of calories in the food and drink they order.

An evaluation of trials by 21 companies, including many quick service and casual dining chains that had introduced calorie labelling into some or all of their outlets, found that they were able to introduce the scheme with relative ease.

The research showed that three factors - visibility, understanding and consumer engagement - were found to have an impact on consumers’ capacity and inclination to use calorie labelling.

The FSA said that the study found that people could envisage using calorie labelling to help them make healthier choices whilst still enjoying their favourite foods when eating out.

The evaluation also highlighted that more people will know to look for and use calorie labelling once it has become more widespread.

Tim Smith chief executive of the FSA, said: “The consultation we are launching today asks for views from both industry and consumers on how calorie labelling will best work in practice. It will also set out guidelines for businesses wanting to join this important initiative.

“Our work with the catering sector is ground-breaking. Whether people are grabbing a snack on the go, eating in a staff restaurant or out for a meal with their family - the introduction of calorie labelling will enable them to see what choices are healthier and help them improve their diets.”

The companies involved in the scheme included Burger King, Compass Group, KFC, Marks & Spencer cafés, Mitchells & Butlers, Pizza Hut, prêt a Manger, Sodexo, Subway, The Real Greek and Wimpy.