An Important Law for All Food Service Providers | Commentary

At the end of 2014, the administration announced the final menu labeling regulation within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. With implementation at the end of this year, for the first time our country will have a national standardized approach to menu labeling, ensuring a clear, effective and transparent way to present calorie information so as to best meet the public interest.

Dunkin’ Brands and many others in the restaurant industry worked proactively with Congress and the administration over the past several years to help reform what had been a complex, highly localized approach to menu labeling. With the former decentralized approach, competing state and local menu labeling laws were difficult and disruptive for businesses, as well as lacking in consistency for customers. National menu labeling regulation was an important and necessary step both for our industry and for the consumer, and one that was long overdue.

The new menu labeling regulation is intended to benefit both businesses and consumers by focusing on a full breadth of establishments that serve food, not a select few. For this reason, the regulation specifically includes not just restaurant chains, but other food retailers with 20 or more locations, including convenience stores and select others. Representatives from some of these non-restaurant food service establishments are lobbying Congress for an exemption from the new federal menu labeling regulation, and as a matter of fact, last year, were able to get legislation introduced that would undo the new labeling regulation. I strongly disagree with this. The benefits of menu labeling to consumers are important no matter the size of the menu or the percentage of sales from food, and I hope lawmakers will maintain the menu labeling regulation as it was written.

Some food-service providers have feared that being up front and transparent with nutritional information will negatively impact their sales. However, there is no evidence that supports this concern. In fact, when the menu labeling law went into effect in New York City in 2007, Dunkin’ Donuts saw only a minimal, and temporary, impact to sales across the five boroughs compared with sales before menu labeling existed.

These non-restaurant food service establishments that also claim tremendous expenses associated in determining nutrition information and creating new menu boards clearly misunderstand the new regulation. The regulation states that food-service providers need only use reasonable means to calculate calorie counts. And while Dunkin’ Donuts made the business decision to convert to digital menu boards in part for ease and flexibility in providing information to our guests, the regulation doesn’t require menu boards to be replaced, only updated.

Most importantly, consumers want this. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to the public’s health, issued a 2013 research review on the impact of menu labeling on consumer behavior, citing multiple surveys that show high levels of support for menu labeling regulation.

I believe menu labeling is simply the right thing to do. The new regulation, as written, is in the best interests of both our industry and consumers. I am proud that Dunkin’ Brands could play a part in its creation, and we urge Congress to reject any efforts to exclude certain businesses from the menu labeling regulation.

Nigel Travis is chairman and chief executive officer of Dunkin’ Brands.