The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 25 finalized two rules requiring that calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments (including bakery cafes) with 20 or more locations to provide consumers with more nutritional information about the foods they eat outside of the home. The rules are required by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Restaurants and similar retail food establishments will have one year to comply with the menu labeling requirements.
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”

The menu labeling final rule applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items. Supermarkets are included. Covered food establishments will be required to clearly and conspicuously display calorie information for standard items on menus and menu boards, next to the name or price of the item. Seasonal menu items offered for sale as temporary menu items, daily specials and condiments for general use typically available on a counter or table are exempt from the labeling requirements.

Some states, localities and various large restaurant chains are already doing their own forms of menu labeling. The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, the law establishing nutrition labeling on most foods, did not cover nutrition labeling for restaurants and other ready-to-eat foods. In the years that followed, states and cities created their own labeling requirements for such foods. These federal standards will help avoid situations in which a chain restaurant subject to the federal requirements has to meet different requirements in different states.

The FDA considered more than 1,100 comments from stakeholders and consumers in developing these rules. In response to comments, the FDA narrowed the scope of foods covered by the rule to more clearly focus on restaurant-type food, made other adjustments such as ensuring the flexibility for multi-serving dishes like pizza to be labeled by the slice rather than as a whole pie, and provided establishments with additional time to comply with the rule.

In addition, the menu labeling final rule now includes certain alcoholic beverages served in covered food establishments and listed on the menu, but still provides flexibility in how establishments meet this provision. The majority of comments supported including alcohol because of the impact on public health.

The menu labeling rule also includes food facilities in entertainment venue chains such as movie theaters and amusement parks.

Clean Labels

Operators like Panera Bread already have been planning ahead on this crucial topic.

Earlier this year, Panera Bread shared a comprehensive set of commitments around food. The Food Policy, which is a formal articulation of Panera’s long held values, is expressed by a commitment to clean ingredients, transparency, and a positive impact (on the food system) rooted in craft. Panera has announced that it intends to remove artificial additives (colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives) from its bakery cafe food menu by the end of 2016.

“Panera was founded on the belief that quick food could be quality food,” says Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and CEO. “We started by baking bread from fresh dough each day in our cafes. That commitment led to others – like our early decision to remove artificial trans-fats, post calories on menu boards and invest in serving chicken raised without antibiotics. As we continue to make conscious choices about the food we source and serve, we realized it’s also important to share what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going.”

The Food Policy focuses on three areas where the company believes it can have a significant impact.

•Clean Ingredients: “We are advocates for clean food. We’re committed to sourcing and serving high-quality ingredients without artificial additives including added MSG, artificial trans fats, and ingredients we don’t believe need to be in your food.”
•Transparent Menu: “Our menu is diverse. We’re committed to transparency to empower guests to choose how they want to eat.”
•Positive Impact: “We are committed to making a positive impact on our food system. We believe guests deserve to know not only what is in their food, but where it comes from and how companies are impacting the food system.”

“We believe simpler is better,” explains Scott Davis, Chief Concept Officer. “Panera is on a mission to help fix a broken food system. We have a long journey ahead, but we’re working closely with the nutrition community, industry experts, farmers, suppliers and others to make a difference. We’re pleased to publicly share our framework and intend to share progress over time.”

Industry Response

The FDA’s menu labeling final rule also requires covered establishments to provide, upon consumer request and as noted on menus and menu boards, written nutrition information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

Industry groups were quick to respond to the FDA move.

The National Restaurant Association’s President and CEO Dawn Sweeney issued the following statement about the FDA’s final menu labeling regulations:

“The National Restaurant Association strongly believes in the importance of providing nutrition information to consumers to empower them to make the best choices for their dietary needs.  Under the federal menu labeling regulations which the association sought and supported, nutrition information will soon be available in more than 200,000 restaurant locations nationwide. We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.”

The menu labeling law was passed in March of 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. It will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations operating under the same brand to provide detailed nutrition information to consumers and display calories on the menu, menu board or drive-thru.

Food Marketing Institute president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin released the following statement on the FDA’s decision to include supermarkets in its chain restaurant menu labeling rule:

“FMI is extremely disappointed that FDA used a five-word clause in the 3,000-page Affordable Care Act to expand chain restaurant menu labeling rules to grocery stores. Grocery stores already provide an abundance of nutritional information well beyond calories and have done so for decades. They should not be pulled into a menu labeling law and regulation designed for a different industry. In fact, a typical grocery store has 95 percent of food items already labeled with Nutrition Facts, disclosing much more nutritional information beyond calories, and supermarkets have been exemplified through the years as venues where consumers are informed of their nutritional choices. By contrast, a restaurant is not considered ‘similar’ to a food retailer for the myriad of other regulatory requirements imposed on food retailers, including country-of-origin, bioterrorism, and allergen labeling as well as those associated with the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“The cost of FDA’s menu labeling rule will redirect hundreds of millions of dollars away from grocers’ efforts toward expansion of their offerings of fresh, minimally processed, locally produced items, such as cut cantaloupe, mixed salads, or steamed seafood. Clearly, this was not the intent behind a requirement for menu labeling in chain restaurants.”