Point, Counterpoint: Domino's menu labeling stance

Editor's note: On Aug. 17, PizzaMarketplace.com reprinted an open letter written by Domino's CEO J. Patrick Doyle. The letter urged policymakers to be flexible with the menu labeling law, citing cost and logistics concerns specifically from the variable and delivery-heavy pizza industry. Nancy Huehnergarth, executive director of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance (NYSHEPA) has responded on the contrary. Her column originally appeared on the International Association of Franchisees and Dealers website and has been republished here with her permission:

Why Domino's is wrong on menu labeling

One would think that providing more information to the consumer at point of purchase is always a good thing. But in a recent op-ed in The Hill, Domino's CEO, J. Patrick Doyle, expresses a very different point of view with regard to the new menu labeling law that is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The law, which was supported by the National Restaurant Association and received bipartisan support in Congress, requires that food establishments with 20 or more locations provide calorie information on menus and menu boards.

Similar laws have been passed and implemented around the nation and our organization, the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance (NYSHEPA), spearheaded successful campaigns to get these laws enacted in a number of New York State counties.

Since the concerns raised by Mr. Doyle are similar to concerns we heard in New York State (all of which turned out to be exaggerated), I appreciate this opportunity to address them.

Mr. Doyle's overarching concern appears to be ensuring that the federal menu labeling law leaves Domino's on a competitive field. For example, he expresses dismay that Domino's franchisees must go to the expense of posting a new in-store menu board with calorie information when, according to Doyle, 90 percent of their orders are placed by phone or online.

However, menu and menu board changes are hardly rare occurrences for chain restaurants. It's safe to say that both are changed on a fairly regular basis at most chains for a variety of reasons including but not limited to marketing purposes, to add or remove items, or to change prices.

We've learned that while sometimes the entire menu board must be replaced, many chains can remove and update "slats" that are slid in and out.

We've also learned that the majority of restaurants receive new menus and menu boards from their parent company as part of their yearly pre-paid advertising and promotion budget. In those cases, changes required by the federal menu labeling law will be covered at no additional cost.

If none of the above scenarios apply to Domino's franchisees then I can give them one assurance. Purchasing a new menu board will be a one-time expense - not an annual expense costing "thousands of dollars a year" as Mr. Doyle mistakenly states.

I'd like to note that in the New York State locales that have adopted menu labeling, we have heard no report of any franchisee being placed at a competitive disadvantage, seeing a drop in business growth, or suffering financial distress -- not even a Domino's franchisee.

Mr. Doyle also expresses concern with how the new law proposes to deal with customized or variable items like pizza. Just like the federal law, each New York State county or city menu labeling measure requires that the entire calorie count or calorie range of a pizza be posted on the menu and menu board.

The reasoning behind this is simple. If consumers purchase a whole pizza, they should be given the calorie count or calorie range for the entire pizza. When a pizza is cut into 4, 6 or 8 slices, consumers are smart enough to do the math.

Why are public health advocates insistent that per slice calorie counts for pizza not be used for a whole pie? Last year, I saw for myself what happens when a restaurant goes the per slice route. Dining with friends at a well-known chain restaurant in New York City, I noticed that the restaurant illegally posted the per slice calorie count of its personal pizzas. And sure enough, my dining companions marveled out loud, at the low calorie count for an entire personal pizza - until I broke the bad news.

This is exactly the kind of confusion or misrepresentation the law is trying to avoid. Mr. Doyle touts Domino's online tool the Cal O Meter as a superior and more accessible way for Domino's customers to learn calories than what the menu labeling law proposes.

While the Cal O Meter works nicely (except that it gives confusing per slice nutrition information for whole pizzas), it is time consuming to use and it would only appeal to a very determined and motivated consumer.

Research has shown that calorie labeling works only when the customer sees the information precisely at point of purchase. That's why the law is written as such.

Mr. Doyle asserts that in locales where Domino's has been required to post calorie labeling, they have seen no change in customer ordering behavior. I have not seen any formal data or study posted by Domino's on this topic so I can't comment on Mr. Doyle's claim.

I can however, point to a number of studies that show that calorie labeling works. The most recent NYC study found that one out of every six fast food customers surveyed said they used posted calorie information to make food buying decisions and these customers purchased 106 fewer calories than those who did not see or use the calorie information.

That's big news because eating an extra 100 calories a day can cause you to gain 10 pounds a year, whereas eating 100 calories less than usual may result in a loss of 10 pounds.

Many health advocates believe that the true value of menu labeling may actually lie in product reformulation, which will impact all diners. Chains have already been reformulating high-fat and calorie-laden items and introducing lighter, healthier options in response to menu labeling requirements and consumer demand.

Some recently revealed calorie counts have been downright embarrassing and significant product reformulation to lower calories and fat has been noted at Starbucks, Denny's, Uno Chicago Grill, Le Pain Quotidien, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, McDonalds (even the Happy Meal), Cosi and Romano's Macaroni Grill, which managed to squeeze a whopping 880 calories out of just one salad.

In a 2010 Washington Post article, it was reported that Austin Grill, California Pizza Kitchen, the Cheesecake Factory, Fuddruckers, Silver Diner and Sizzler, among others, are working with a consulting company to make their recipes healthier. The consulting company referenced has seen its business jump 80 percent in 2008 and 100 percent in 2009.

If restaurant chains hope to be part of the solution to our nation's deadly obesity epidemic then reformulation of unhealthy, high calorie fare is an important step forward.

The federal menu labeling law is just one of many critical interventions public health professionals and legislators are supporting to begin to put the brakes on America's deadly obesity epidemic, which is shortening our life spans and costing the nation $147 billion annually.

While I understand Mr. Doyle's focus on the financial well-being of his Domino's franchisees, I believe his concerns are overstated. As we've seen in New York, where menu labeling has been successfully implemented in numerous locales, the law has not put Domino's or any other chain at a competitive disadvantage.

Having calories listed clearly at point of purchase is a simple, cost-effective way to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices. Isn't that what America is all about?

Domino's responds to Huehnergarth's post

Domino's vice president of communications Tim McIntyre responded as such to Huehnergarth's post in the comments section:

"While we can appreciate that you disagree with us, because that's what you get paid to do, we do feel compelled to point out that you exaggerate your messages of 'exaggeration.' We are not against menu labeling or sharing nutritional information with our customers, which is why we've done it – voluntarily – for more than a dozen years. The spirit of menu labeling is to provide information to consumers before or at the point of purchase.

As is well-documented, 90 percent of our customers order over the phone or online. The expenses our franchisees would incur (and they are real, despite your protestations) are expensive and not well-invested, especially when they will reach only 10 percent of the target audience. Our web site can be reached by virtually 100 percent of the target audience, most of whom are not interested anyway.

By the way, our menu boards don't have 'slats,' so the entire board would need to be replaced and updated, at a cost of several thousands of dollars per year. Our franchisees pay for their menus; they are not included in their royalties, as you wrongly argue.

Roughly 2/3 of people in the U.S. say that they are actively trying to lose weight. If what people say they were going to do was equivalent to what they actually do...the obesity problem would be solved. The fact is that the menu boards have not changed purchasing habits in NYC. Period. Many independent studies have shown that. If your "fact" about 1-in-6 people changing their behavior were true, we would expect to see the obesity problem in NYC to be solved by now.

Lastly, we fervently believe in communicating information by the slice, as that is how people eat pizza. We also believe our customers are smart enough to do the math...but our customer service orientation compels us to do the math for them.

We also feel compelled to fight on behalf of our franchisees: small business owners who provide thousands of jobs across America, and whose businesses continue to be threatened by well-meaning, but illogical "help" from government and activist groups.

- Tim McIntyre, Domino's Pizza"

Middle ground?

Michael Webster, a commenter who read Huehnergarth's letter and McIntyre's comments, left a comment of his own about the lack of middle ground by both parties.

"... I also think that Tim is right about the cost here of the menu board. It is just too much of an expense for an operator to incur without a clear and corresponding benefit to the public.

Phone ordering has to be addressed. Even if Nancy's numbers are right, people phoning in to purchase a pizza are not seeing a menu board.

On the other hand, I am less persuaded by Tim's argument that caloric counts should be by the slice - the caloric counts should be by whatever item was ordered, slice or pie.

It is also clear that both parties do not accept each other's experts and the evidence about the effectiveness of disclosure. This is something that should be the subject of joint fact finding.

Finally, while Tim is probably correct in asserting that most people are not really committed to their weight loss goals, it doesn't feel right to simply dismiss well meaning advocates and Nancy's message as 'illogical help.'"

Read more stories about health and nutrition initiatives.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Richard Glenn
    79318536
    We in the pizza industry, including Mr. Doyle, have resigned ourselves to the inevitability of these laws and have taken a stance of limiting their scope. I think that's a mistake. The real issue is not the merits of calorie information on menus, but whether our government through it's bureaucracies has any right or authority to interfere in the market place.

    My position is that they do not. Ms. Huehnergarth's well intentioned arguments for public health are ignorant of the much greater concern which is loss of freedom. I'm sick of "the right to know" argument as it can apply to anything and everything. The real question should be does the public even care? If the public want something then they will demand it and vote for it with their dollars. The free market will respond. If they don't want something then so be it.

    Government mandated menu labeling is the kind of thinking that will continue to push us closer and closer loss of freedom and liberty and towards the nanny state which is a polite term for socialism.

    Before I get accused of blowing this out of proportion I would ask everyone, if the government feels it must intervene in our eating habits to safeguard us from ourselves, where will they stop?

    Don't forget, a government that can give you everything you need, can take everything you've got.
  • Robert Wilson
    79311893
    First -- It is NOT the role of government to solve every annoying problem that some well-meaning activist sees and adopts as a crusade. While I agree that obesity is an epidemic, the consequences of poor eating habits should be aimed against those who knowingly and with sufficient available information still choose to neglect their health. Instead we charge the business people (restaurants and others) who offer the food with babysitting and bearing the costs for a segment of population that truly doesn't care to begin with.

    The Internet blankets every facet of our lives today. So why not create a government maintained universal "web-based search site" for nutritional information rather than burden each and every restaurant and food purveyor with these costs? I also believe there should be a ten-year phase out of government health insurance reimbursements for expenses incurred due to health issues of the morbidly obese (without them having some documented legitimate underlying health cause for being so). If you smoke and destroy your lungs, don't ask me (the taxpayer) to pay your bills. If you don't wear your seat belt (or your motorcycle helmet) - that's fine, it's your freedom .. Don't ask my insurance or the governments insurance to pay for the costs of your chosen negligence. People need to take responsibility for themselves and their actions and cease looking to others to do it for them or pay for them when they do not. If it was not for the costs incurred by wage-earning taxpayers in caring for the self-neglecting, why would we even care about these issues?
  • Paul Gillespie
    79294785
    Why would nutrition information need to be done by the whole pizza if the pizza was obviously meant to be consumed in multiple servings? If I go to the grocery store and by a family size frozen lasagna, should it contain nutritional info based on the whole or based on the serving?

    Finally, echoing Ms Huehnergarth's final paragraph, if nutritional information is necessary at the point of purchase for consumers to make an informed decision, wouldn't it stand to reason that a list of donors should be provided for each and every politician running for election at the poll so the voter can make an informed decision. We probably wouldn't have this law passed if that had been the case.
  • Michael Webster
    79293788
    1. I am Michael Webster, Chair of the Strategic Committee for the IAFD, and published Nancy's post - expanding on her comment's on Patrick Doyle's piece.

    2. This is great! Both sides are now being debated - although I fear we still have some distance to travel to find enough common ground. Hope both parties can use these posts to narrow the distance between them, find common ground, and better understand the basis for each other's viewpoints.
  • Paul Gillespie
    79293367
    Michael

    Could you expand on why you feel that the caloric counts should be based on the whole pizza if that is how it is ordered? I regularly purchase a large pizza with the intention of feeding my wife, son and myself. Why should a pizza be labeled based on the whole, but a loaf of bread is labeled by the slice?
  • Michael Webster
    79292891
    Paul, I think that the caloric intake should reflect the unit likely to be consumed. Bread is bought by the loaf, but usually not consumed in one sitting. Pizza, on the other hand, is bought by the pie and in my house nothing is left over.

    My own view is the caloric disclosure is not likely to have the good consequences that Nancy believes it will. I am open to evidence on this, but I rather like the idea that portion size makes more sense, an idea explored in more detail here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/sustainable-healthy-food-consumption

    But all of these ideas require some evidence, experimentation before we saddle the franchise operators with large costs that may not deliver any public benefits.
  • ray Burke
    79292722
    I must comment on the comments about cost of menu lableing
    Make no mistake about it the cost is paid in the price you will
    Pay for the products just like all other government regulations cost us
  • Paul Gillespie
    79280516
    Now while I think it is ridiculous to list the nutritional info for a whole pizza as opposed to a serving size, I think that Domino's is a big part of the reason why the legislature has found this necessary. When they introduced their "low carb" pizza back in 2003 or 2004 they advertised the carb count of a serving of 1 slice of their 12" pizza. While this was well before J Patrick Doyle was at the helm of Domino's, it is hard to argue that his predecessors manipulation is not partially to blame for the legislation requiring a count of the whole pizza. If Domino's thinks that 1/8th of a 12" thin crust pizza is a serving, why shouldn't Pizza Hut give stats for 1/4 of it's personal pizza? I would love to hear what Tim McIntyre or J Patrick Doyle think about 1/8th of a 12" pizza being considered a serving. If I call my local Domino's looking to feed a party of 24 people will the manager suggest that I only need to purchase 3 medium pizzas?
  • Michael Webster
    79254029
    Paul, you are making a very good point. Perhaps, we should be ordering our pizzas by caloric count instead of inches or sizes of the pie?
  • Tom Lehmann
    79251222
    So, you buy a box of cereal, and the nutrition facts panel states that there are X-number of calories in a serving, and then it states the serving size. Isn't this the same as a pizza? The pizza is like the box of cereal, but who eats the entire box, or the entire pizza for that matter. Why not show the entire calorie count for the specific pizza followed by a statement such as (calories per slice, 1/8 of the pizza: XXX calories). This will allow a customer buying and eating that pizza to be aware of how many calories he/she is consuming by knowing the number of calories in each slice, isn't that the way we eat pizza, by the slice???
    Regarding an INDIVIDUAL size pizza, the last time I checked, "individual" meant by or for one person, so in this case it would be correct to show only the full calorie count for the ENTIRE pizza. This would be the same for a slice, where only the calorie count for the slice would be shown.
  • Richard Glenn
    79248437
    This discussion is a perfect example of why markets should be left alone. Who of us, with all of the good intentions in the world, can possibly include all of the variables to make this program work? Add to this that there are no stated criteria for success, no data collection, no program review, and so on. I'd like to know how much of the $147B cost of obesity will we save compared to the expense of this program? Seems like a reasonable question to answer BEFORE implementing a program like this.

    FYI For every study that says labeling works there's another that says it does not. Ms Huehnergarth says she can point to many studies supporting labeling and then doesn't except for an anecdote from an un-cited NYC study. I'll take her at her word. I guess 1 out of 6 is a huge win by government standards.

    I'll provide two from reliable sources that say labeling does not work.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2011/01/14/study-finds-menu-labeling-didnt-change-eating-habits/

    http://ldihealtheconomist.com/he000001.shtml

    So, it seems whether calories are labeled by the slice, pie, bite, really won't make any difference so we can all relax knowing that really all that will be accomplished is added cost an wasted menu space.

  • Richard Glenn
    79248435
    This discussion is a perfect example of why markets should be left alone. Who of us, with all of the good intentions in the world, can possibly include all of the variables to make this program work? Add to this that there are no stated criteria for success, no data collection, no program review, and so on. I'd like to know how much of the $147B cost of obesity will we save compared to the expense of this program? Seems like a reasonable question to answer BEFORE implementing a program like this.

    FYI For every study that says labeling works there's another that says it does not. Ms Huehnergarth says she can point to many studies supporting labeling and then doesn't except for an anecdote from an un-cited NYC study. I'll take her at her word. I guess 1 out of 6 is a huge win by government standards.

    I'll provide two from reliable sources that say labeling does not work.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2011/01/14/study-finds-menu-labeling-didnt-change-eating-habits/

    http://ldihealtheconomist.com/he000001.shtml

    So, it seems whether calories are labeled by the slice, pie, bite, really won't make any difference so we can all relax knowing that really all that will be accomplished is added cost an wasted menu space.

  • Nancy Huehnergarth
    78541316
    Just catching up on this thoughtful discussion.

    Links to studies that found that calorie labeling impacted consumer ordering behavior were inadvertently left out of my article:

    http://news.yale.edu/2009/12/17/impact-menu-labeling-yale-study-shows-people-eat-less-when-they-know-more

    http://www.publichealthadvocacy.org/menulabelingdocs/NYC_study_APHA_Journal.pdf

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/pr2011/pr018-11.shtml


    I also would like to add a few more examples of how menu labeling has already had quite an impressive impact -- even though it hasn't been implemented nationally. In July, as part of a National Restaurant Association initiative, 19 large restaurant chains — including Burger King, Chili's, IHOP and Friendly's — pledged to promote and include healthier options on their children's menus like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. And in August, McDonald’s introduced, with great fanfare, its new Happy Meal, which boasts apple slices, a smaller portion of fries and a lower calorie count. No doubt menu labeling laws, which helped to spark a nationwide discussion of high calorie counts for kid's fast food meals, played a huge role in these announcements.

    More recently, with the First Lady looking on, Darden Restaurant Group pledged that it will reduce its calorie and sodium footprints by 10 percent in five years and 20 percent in ten years through menu reformulation, portion resizing and removing/introducing menu items – a pledge that would have been unthinkable if it were not for the impending implementation of federal menu labeling policy in 2012.

    Until menu labeling came along, there had been little incentive for chain restaurants to create healthier, lower calorie food even though our population was becoming more and more unhealthy. A look back 30 years shows us how portion sizes have exploded, menu items have become increasingly hi-fat, hi-sugar, hi sodium and hi calorie, and unhealthy but delicious food is uber-marketed 24/7 to consumers. Menu labeling is hardly the cure for our country's chronic disease/obesity crisis. But it's an important intervention that is making a difference on several levels.

    And finally, from everything I have heard in NYS, where at least 6 locales have implemented menu labeling, I reiterate that the cost is minimal to chain restaurants. I have never gotten an explanation as to why Mr. Doyle believes that a new menu board will cost Domino's franchisees thousands of dollars yearly. If someone could shed light on that, I would be most appreciative.
  • Richard Glenn
    78110537
    First, I'd like to thank Nancy for joining in the fray. Much appreciated. I have one last comment then I'll shut up. So far we've shown there is evidence that menu labeling works and there's evidence that it doesn't. Nancy listed systems that are complying as if they are supportive. Maybe they are maybe their not. They may just be compliant given the inevitability the labeling. Maybe they are responding to their markets. (What a concept!) I've yet to hear anyone address whether there is a criteria for success or what the expected benefits will be. Except for the it feels good or, feels right or, at least we're doing something.

    However, my real problem with this is deeper. It really doesn't matter if it works or not. I only question the merits of the program itself to point out how little thought goes into these things and how little follow up there is after the fact. The real issue to me is that the government has no business getting involved. Where will we draw the line? Will we all be issued gray coats and pants with matching caps and little black shoes so we can step outside once a day for exercise? Wouldn't that really be much more effective than menu labeling? I know you'll scoff but 30, 20, even 10 years ago we would have all laughed at menu labeling. The real question isn't whether this "law" or "rule" will help reduce obesity, it's really a question of the direction we're going as a nation. Are we going to give up all of our liberty to be taken care of or are we going to be personally responsible?
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