Sides being drawn on alternate menu-labeling plan passed by US House

| by S.A. Whitehead
Sides being drawn on alternate menu-labeling plan passed by US House

The U.S. House passage this week of the so-called "Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act" (H.R. 772) is either an attempt to water down previous menu-labeling measures set to take effect in May, or it's a break for restaurant operators on the potentially costly compliance with the law's stipulations. The view any individual or organization takes on the menu-labeling law, which has been on-again and off-again now for the last eight years, in many respects, depends on if they are a restaurateur, a consumer or one of the industry's nutritional advocacy groups.

Essentially, the aforementioned H.R. 772 passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this week by a vote of 266-157. If passed by the rest of the committees and Senate, the latest act would only require restaurateurs to provide nutritional labeling only online rather than on in-store signage, menus and other product information as stipulated by the law set to take effect May 7.

"Pizza store owners and operators continue to support the intent behind menu-labeling laws and we're happy that Congress is taking action to make these regulations workable for small business owners," American Pizza Community Chairman Tim McIntyre, said in a statement. "With millions of different combinations to customize a single pizza, it is nearly impossible to display understandable ranges on an in-store menu board where the majority of orders aren't taken.  We simply want the flexibility to give nutrition information in a way that makes sense to our customers." 

Pizza restaurants — like many in the foodservice industry in the U.S. — have spent the last several years adding nutritional contents of their numerous pizza combinations to in-store signage and menus in preparation to meet the previous compliance deadline of May 5, 2017. The government, however, extended it to May 7, 2018, after receiving objections filed by the convenience store industry, which must also meet compliance requirements under the regulations. 

Organizations, including the American Pizza Community, say the regulations as written are too broad and difficult to attain, especially for pizza operators. APC does not cite the source of its information but states that "90 percent of customers place orders online or over the phone."

It also said that number, along with "an inflexible requirement to label in-store menu boards with broad calorie ranges for entire pizzas will not enhance consumer education but would come at great expense to owners." It claimed that the U.S. Office of Management and Budget has estimated that cost to equal "more than $1 billion in the first year alone" under the FDA requirements set to take effect this spring. 

But businesses and organizations supporting the May regulations said objections like those filed by the American Pizza Community are just another attempt to delay menu-labeling requirements from taking effect again this year.

MenuTrinfo Founder and CEO Betsy Craig, who said her company has helped hundreds of restaurant brands meet the coming regulations, views this new act as counterproductive and also unfair to brands that have invested time and money in an effort to comply with the rules. 

"Many brands have completed this mission to prove and share transparency for the consumer who wants to know and is out there in front of the mandates," Craig said in a statement to Pizza Marketplace.  "They are answering diners' needs and shoring up food costs, stability of recipes and quality of foods as a result of menu labeling prep and implementation.  

"The 'Common Sense Menu Labeling Legislation' is desired by some to allow more flexibility in methods to display, such as online versus a menu board.  That discussion about slice vs. entire pizza pie has already been asked and answered. Where to display calories has also been asked and answered.  I am not saying menu labeling is simple — heck, we have followed the FDA across the country for years to stay in the loop — but delay any further starts also to be unfair to those that were ready, willing and waiting.  How many more times will the timeline be moved? ... Complying with the regulations as written can be achieved by all restaurants and restaurant-type establishments, including pizzerias. And it does not cost millions of dollars."

The May 7 deadline for compliance with the regulations is still in effect.  Meanwhile, the aforementioned Common Sense Menu Labeling Act passed by the House this week must now proceed through congressional committee and pass the U.S. Senate, so it remains to be seen whether the proposed act will again delay the labeling requirements that have been in play for nearly eight years now. 

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Digital Signage, Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, Insurance / Risk Management, Menu Boards, Sustainability

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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