The countdown is on for FDA menu labeling

| by Betsy Craig
The countdown is on for FDA menu labeling

As of Dec. 1, 2016, menu labeling is back on the radar and the required date is back to being measured by months once again. It is coming fast and furious, and many pizzeria owners and operators are making this regulation top of mind and their to-do lists. Wouldn’t you know there is now pending legislation on Capitol Hill that could throw flour everywhere if the House and Senate agree on a "Common Sense Nutritional Law."

Right now, before any new laws are passed and/or put in place, the Food & Drug Administration’s requirements are most difficult of all for pizza companies to keep up with, given the strict rules around menu labeling for that favorite and oh-so-cheesy lunch and dinner item — pizza, of course. We must prepare for the current legislation as is and be ready to act. If a new law is passed that impacts pizzerias, then so be it — but the bottom line is all pizza places with 20 or more locations will be required to provide nutritional information on their menus.

For today, let's spend time with what regulations are here and now and how will they impact pizzerias across the country. The FDA has very particular guidelines around how caloric information should be displayed at pizza restaurants. Caloric values for toppings on every size of pizza and with every different style of crust must be displayed, for example. And that all adds up to lots of variables and nutritional value calculations.

There are two major challenges to actually labeling pizza for the user as I see them. The first concerns instances where consumers can create their own pizza, or in any other topping-picking instance, the FDA dictates that you need caloric values for each individual topping. Holy Moly, that’s a lot of pizza pie info! That can be determined, however, by doing this task on your own, with an app, by hand and for each combination can be a daunting task for any owner/operator to tackle. 

Some pizzeria operators are making the best of the new regulations.

"We expect a positive response and view it as an opportunity for our customers to feel good about having real choices," said Christina Coy, vice president of marketing for Pie Five Pizza Co. "Given that millennials eat out over four times a week, most visit Pie Five as a splurge. Some will opt for what they know is a lower calorie pizza option and others will still go all out, regardless of the calories. This is also an opportunity to show our healthier options."

Scott Goodrich, chief operating officer of Uncle Maddio's Pizza, offered a similar opinion. "We want to be in compliance and will have calorie information on all of our menus — takeout menus, on menu boards and on our website," he said. "We have nothing to hide and offer many lower calories meals such as a 6-inch pizza with an entrée salad. For our LTOs, we usually do the same flavor profile in a salad as well as a pizza."

Here's the biggest challenge for this area of the task when it comes to pizzerias: should you decide to change a menu ingredient or start sourcing your pepperoni through a different company, for instance, every single number that is touched by pepperoni must also be updated if the two products are not the same nutritional values. The nutritional do-it-yourself people are going to be so busy keeping up with numbers for nutrition the numbers for the business may very much slide. Better to have help and a company to do it for the brand, but that also comes with a price and a new monthly expense. 

The second major concern as I see it is the size of a slice and the playing field not being level for all pizzerias. In an area where a slice is a set uniform size, that owner can menu-label the pizza by the slice. The pizzeria that cuts it "party cut," "St. Louis cut," rectangle with crust around the edges showing or any other form of uneven distribution, that owner must present the whole pie as the regulations state today. This makes a party-cut pizza look crazy big in calories next to a standard pie-cut pizza due only to what the consumer sees on the menu.

"Most fast casual pizza concepts serve only one size pizza, usually a 9-inch," Goodrich said. "We have four sizes: 6-inch, 9-inch, medium and large. Medium and large pizzas are usually shared. We developed calorie counts based on the serving size for the pizza. For an extra-large pizza, the serving size would be two pieces."  

We, at MenuTrinfo, have been saying since day one, let's use a standard size by ounce and not leave it up to the pizza cutter/wheel a staff member uses. This is a definite part of the current legislation that has pizza pies growing cold and concerned. 

Many of the clients we have been lucky enough to work with at MenuTrinfo have trusted that we can and will make sure they meet or exceed the legislation. We have the information they need and are watching what is happening on Capitol Hill and just outside the beltway at the FDA to stay on top of any and all changes. The best thing we have been hearing is the fact that the FDA does understand that the law takes effect Dec 1, 2016, but many companies will need time to get all the information provided and accurately.  

Some are doing exactly that.

"We plan to have all menu labeling rolled out before the end of next year with the requirements stated by the FDA," Pie Five's Coy said. "We will also communicate with our loyal 'Circle of Crust' members, letting them know what changes they can expect to see in the restaurant as part of this roll-out. We will have all the necessary information on our website and in the restaurant prior to the deadline."

When asked is it good or bad for the pizza industry, I believe that in the long run it is great for our industry. The country had many different menu labeling rules in different areas, counties and states already in effect. Nothing was standardized and left to wide interpretation. If you owned a concept in King County, Washington, and New York City, the laws you were asked to conform to and information provided was similar but not always exactly the same. As much as the FDA enacting section #4205 from Obamacare might leave some angry, at least it is one uniform rule and can be the same no matter the restaurant's zip code.

"It will be good for those who need a little help deciding between certain sauces or toppings," Coy said. "Consumers will likely come to expect that nutritional information is available in restaurants like it is today on packaging. Restaurant likes Pie Five should fare well due to our healthy ingredient options. We are approaching it with complete transparency and the goal of providing customers as much information as they might want or need to make the right choice for themselves."

Uncle Maddio's Goodrich expressed a similar sentiment.

"Our goal is to provide our customers with choices," he said. "We are very diligent in constantly reviewing our menu items and making changes to make them on trend and great tasting. At Uncle Maddio’s Pizza our customers can be as healthy as you want to be by your choices. We offer more variety and more options than any other pizza concept."

Also, think in terms of a brand working toward great quality and conformity across all locations. Menu-labeling is the big brother that makes all franchises comply with brand standards and it is no longer about control from corporate HQ. There is a bigger authority at work here — and that is the FDA. 

Finally, our clients at MenuTrinfo are happier than ever they asked us for help when they have. We can and will provide the information they need, keep current on the rules and make sure or clients know we have their backs. Being in this alone may save a few dollars to use and an app, but bottom line: all brands will need to have a nutritional help desk of some kind to rely upon in the future. The consumer's right to know and the consumer's belief in what is their right to know have changed the role of nutrition for good and forever.  

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Cheese, Equipment & Supplies, Food & Beverage, Food Cost Management, Health & Nutrition, Operations Management, Pizza Sauce, Pizza Toppings, Trends / Statistics

Companies: Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint

Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC. wwwView Betsy Craig's profile on LinkedIn

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