FDA Menu Labeling Update

FDA Menu Labeling Update: Using the Delay to Your Advantage

Menu labeling laws may have been delayed, but restaurants can still voluntarily provide calorie counts on their menus to satisfy diners.

Menu labeling laws may have been delayed, but restaurants can still voluntarily provide calorie counts on their menus to satisfy diners. Photo credit: Unsplash user Alva Pratt.

May was an anticlimactic month for the restaurant industry. Restaurants, cafes, and convenience store chains of 20 locations or more were gearing up to roll out their new menus with calorie counts, only to have the compliance date delayed. While some restaurant groups celebrated the deadline switch, others are disappointed because they already made the changes.

If your business didn’t already comply with the labeling laws, the good news is you have more time. The bad news, however, is that more and more diners want to see calorie counts on menus and have been waiting for this labeling law to come into effect for far too long. If you haven’t yet made the switch to providing calorie counts on your menus, it is a good idea to consider what potential changes the Trump administration could make in the coming year, as well as the benefits of providing calorie counts before it is officially required.

The Menu Labeling Act: Past, Present, and Future

The Trump administration announced the new deadline of May 4, 2018, just three days before the intended date announced in 2017. The purpose of this delay was to reduce the financial burden on businesses and potentially revise the law to make it more flexible. Since its enactment in Congress in 2010, the law has experienced many similar setbacks, including two delays under the Obama administration.

Due to the history of this law and the unpredictability of the Trump administration, it is difficult to surmise what will happen in the months leading up to the new compliance date. What we do know is that the government is receiving pressure from restaurant groups who want the laws revised. The current law has all the same requirements for establishments selling restaurant-type food but doesn’t consider how customer interaction and ordering occurs in different settings.

The Chicago Tribune reported that pizza chains are rallying against the laws because most of their sales are done online and they don’t think they should have to provide calorie counts on physical menus. Considering this, perhaps we will see more differentiation between types of food establishments, with specific requirements for each. As an example, pizza chains may only be required to provide calorie info on their websites, not in their restaurant, while sit-down restaurants may have to include calorie counts on physical menus but not online.

What the administration didn’t seem to consider when they delayed the compliance date is that some restaurants had already done the legwork of preparing their menus for compliance. Despite the financial output, these restaurants may find having their calorie count on the menu before it becomes law could actually be beneficial. After all, the public has been waiting for this information on menus for seven years.

Public Demand for Calorie Information

The majority of the American public has been aware of and in support of the menu labeling law for some time, so it stands to reason that some are disappointed with the further delay. After all, more than half of Americans are in favor of calorie labeling on menus. The fast-paced American lifestyle has changed the way people eat, meaning that the average American eats 43.1% of their food from restaurants or restaurant-like establishments. And since Americans are also becoming more health-conscious and specific about their dietary needs, they want greater transparency around what restaurants are serving.  

The public demand for calorie labeling gives restaurants good reason to provide it, even though it isn’t legally required yet. This would allow restaurants to see how providing calorie counts to diners could build customer trust and loyalty while potentially growing a customer base.

Cost-Effective Ways to Provide Calorie Counts

Of course, when implementing calorie counts in your restaurant, cost is a factor—especially when it isn’t mandatory. Luckily, since there are currently no stringent guidelines or formats to adhere to, you can make the shift frugally.

Starting with the nutritional analysis itself (to calculate the calorie count), using an FDA-compliant online nutritional analysis software is the least expensive route. The only costs associated with the software is a monthly fee, whereas if you hired an independent consultant or worked with a food lab, it would cost between $100 to $800 dollars per recipe, respectively. CD-ROMS are also expensive because they come with many hidden fees, like a $1,500 service connection fee.

Time and ease are two other factors worth considering when weighing your options. You may be tempted to hand the analysis off to a consultant or a food lab to save hours of effort, but in reality, online nutritional analysis is the easiest and quickest option by far. All it takes is signing into your password-protected account and entering your recipe ingredients and amounts. If you use a CD-ROM, the user interfaces are usually much more cumbersome and confusing, and they lack a lot of common ingredients your recipe may use. Food labs require you to prepare samples of all your dishes, package them, and ship them off for testing—all of which can take up to one month.

Since the new laws don’t come into effect for another year (if then), you can display the information in a way that doesn’t require a big chunk of money. Instead of having all new menus printed, you can put the calorie counts on your website menu and direct diners to the page if they have calorie-related questions. You could print a few menus with calorie amounts that are available to diners upon request, or you could provide calorie counts on only one menu, like your breakfast menu. This way, you can still make sure diners are satisfied.

What’s Next for Food Labeling Laws?

While it is difficult to say what will happen on May 18th next year, it is important for restaurants to be conscious of the public’s needs. Ultimately, this is who the labeling laws are supposed to benefit. In the meantime, if you do decide to provide calorie information for your customers, using online nutritional analysis software is the quickest, most inexpensive, and easiest tool to use. The best part? All your information and recipes will be saved in your secure online account so you can always come back to it when the government finally does make up its mind.

At MenuCalc, we know how challenging it can be to get menu items nutritionally analyzed. That’s why we’ve created FDA-compliant software that is affordable and easy to use. For all your calorie content needs, contact us today.

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