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The Food and Drug Administration will soon issue final regulations detailing a national standard for what is known as “menu labeling.” This new national standard will require restaurant and similar retail food establishments (think grocery and convenience stores) of 20 or more same-brand locations to display calories on the menu, menu board or drive-thru, as well as provide additional nutrition information to consumers upon request.
Our convenience store friends (“Hand-Me-Down Menu Regulations Just Don’t Fit Convenience Stores” Roll Call, Aug. 6) are trying to exempt themselves from these requirements although there is a fast growing market of restaurant-type foods being sold in their stores. In fact, convenience and grocery stores are among the fastest-growing foodservice markets in recent years. Between 2007 and 2012, food service sales in these kinds of retail businesses jumped 25 percent, nearly double the 13 percent gain in traditional restaurant sales during the same period, according to National Restaurant Association research.
Convenience and grocery industry representatives readily proclaim that restaurant-type food is the future of their industry. Many employ food service and culinary professionals to develop meals for their customers. So is it not only fair that these “similar retail food establishments” with restaurant-like operations be treated equally under the law?
Unfortunately, as we approach the 11th hour, convenience and grocery store representatives are pushing legislation that would upend the progress made and exempt them from labeling requirements. This will create confusion for consumers that are looking for that same nutritional information consistency across the foods they purchase regardless of the venue. True, implementing the law will come with costs, but most claims are overblown and the costs of returning to a complicated state and local regulatory patchwork would be even greater.
The National Restaurant Association, along with our members, advocated for a national, uniform labeling standard for larger brands and worked collaboratively with the public health community and bipartisan supporters in Congress to find reasonable, common sense standards so that customers have access to consistent nutrition information nationwide wherever restaurant-type food is served.
From a customer standpoint the new national standard makes sense. Just as restaurants and other food retailers have evolved, so have the desires of customers to make informed choices. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast, a third of all adults have gone online to get nutrition data on restaurant food. That percentage jumps to 48 percent for adults ages 18 to 34.
It also makes good business sense to have a national standard. Several restaurants have embraced menu labeling and are already initiating their own voluntary rollout as other restaurants prepare their operations for the new changes.
We have worked closely with legislators and urged the FDA to allow our industry as well as this growing segment of other food retailers the flexibility needed to implement the new standard, including how the information is displayed on a menu or menu board, and the period of time in which operators must comply and effectively absorb the additional cost burden.
Political collaboration is a rarity in Washington these days. Restaurant and retail food establishments have a great opportunity to be role models and come together and collectively embrace this important new market evolution to better serve our customers.
Scott DeFife is executive vice president, Policy & Government Affairs for the National Restaurant Association.