FDA Menu Labeling Rule: Take Action
After being postponed multiple times, the FDA will be implementing a menu labeling change that will take effect on May 7th, 2018. Many c-store owners are confused about how this new rule will affect their stores and what they will be required to do in order to comply. Here is our breakdown of what is happening and how you can prepare for the coming changes.
What is the New Menu Labeling Rule?
The new rule will require convenience and grocery stores with twenty or more locations that serve the same items to post the information about the food items for customers to see. Even single-owned c-stores will have to comply if they are a part of a larger franchise and use that franchises name. The FDA believes that posting the nutrient information will "fill a critical information gap and help consumers make informed and healthful dietary choices". On a clearly visible menu or menu board, c-stores must list the caloric information, a statement regarding the suggested daily caloric intake, and a statement about the availability of additional written nutrition information. The written information provided to customers if requested must include the following:
- total calories and calories from fat
- total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat
- cholesterol and sodium
- total carbohydrates
- fiber, sugars, and protein
How Will it Affect Me and My Store?
This affects c-stores across the country and will require them to spend time and money on resources to make their stores compatible with the law. If c-stores do not already have some of the items needed to comply then they will most likely have to purchase them. The items could include menu boards and signage, paper and ink for additional written nutrition information, and access to the proper nutrient information.
C-stores are also known to have a very diverse business model and way of operating. This may make it harder for them to provide the necessary nutrition information that would actually be valuable to customers. This means that owners should start working on their food labeling sooner rather than later so that their businesses are ready when the deadline comes.
What Kind of Foods Are Included?
The menu regulations are for standard items that are made and offered on a consistent basis. Every time these items are prepared they must have substantially the same recipe, are prepared in the same way, and have the same ingredients. These items can be self-service or on a display and offered at twenty or more locations. This means that if you are part of a franchise and offer the same ready-to-eat products as the chain stores, then you will be required to comply with the new menu labeling rule. Here are some of the foods that it will be included in this new rule:
- Take-out foods such as pizza
- Made-to-order sandwiches ordered from a menu or menu board
- Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
- Ready-to-eat items like muffins, donuts, or popcorn
- A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae
- Hot dogs or frozen drinks
- Certain alcoholic beverages
How Do I Get the Nutrition Information?
A huge aspect of this new rule is providing the nutrition information, but many c-store owners will not have any idea how to calculate or find this in order to display it properly. Here are a few ways in which you can get the information.
If you are part of a franchise contact headquarters in order to obtain food information.
If you are serving the same ready-to-eat items as a larger chain that you are a franchise of then chances are they already have the nutrition information available.
Use a nutrient database or cookbook.
These can be found online and are often free. A quick search of your items or ingredients can give you all of the information that you will need to comply with the law.
Get a laboratory analysis.
This is a more costly alternative but may help you save time. It can be very time consuming to try to figure out the nutrition and caloric information in each ready-to-eat item you carry. Sending items to a lab for analysis ensures that it is done correctly.
Talk to your suppliers.
Although your suppliers are not legally obligated to help you they may assist you if it means enhancing your business relationship.
What Can I Do About It?
As a c-store owner you have the right to voice your opinion regarding this ruling. You can visit the FDA's website to view the different options you have such as submitting comments or filing a petition.
Although this 400-page rule seems to be "a one-size-fits-all approach to an industry as diverse as its ingredients", there are some things that you can do to help make the transition easier.
- Know that condiments are exempt from the rule
- When researching nutritional information you do not have to include condiments
- Menu boards are a suggestion, not a requirement
- Retailers can post signage by the items as an alternative to a large menu board
- You can't try to hide the information with small fonts or hard to read font colors
- Information must not be any less conspicuous than menu items and their prices
- Watch out for problem areas like soda fountains and combination meals that involve multiple sizes and options
- These areas contain high volumes of information which can be tricky to label
- Document everything
- The FDA may question how you found your information so make sure you lay out exactly how you found your numbers
Overall, this may seem confusing and time-consuming, but remember that customers want this information and it could actually help you sell more products in the long run. Health trends continue to rise and shoppers want to know what they are buying. As of now, complying with the new FDA changes in menu labeling is required and necessary for you to continue making profits on ready-to-eat items.