Call's Take on Menu Labeling

NACS chairman decries "hand-me-down" regs, lauds legislation for c-stores

Brad Call NACS menu labeling (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Foodservice)

Brad Call

NORTH SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Menu labeling regulations required by the Affordable Care Act designed for restaurants don't make sense for convenience stores, grocery stores, delivery operations and other approaches to foodservice, said Brad Call, chairman of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and executive vice president of North Salt Lake City, Utah-based c-store chain Maverick Inc.

In a commentary for Roll Call, he said, "The FDA rules essentially define a 'restaurant or similar retail food establishment' as any business that devotes more than half of its floor space to consumer food sales and also offers restaurant-type items. That makes a convenience store a 'restaurant' even if 95% of its space is devoted to grocery items, and it sells only one or two prepared items at the counter."

But as he points out, "these small businesses are different from the big, cookie-cutter fast-food chains--and from each other. Many of them are owned and operated by small businessmen and women who are covered under the rules because they happen to operate as a franchisee of a larger corporation. Others are covered because they're parts of cooperatives for purchasing and marketing. But they are owned and operated independently and have wildly varying food offerings, modes of service and suppliers. These traits make it exceedingly difficult to comply with the FDA's proposed rules."

He continues, "Nevertheless, the 'hand-me-down' regulations would require these local establishments to display the same kinds of menu boards disclosing calories as fast-food chains. … Foods on display--like in most convenience stores--would have to be individually labeled on signs next to the food."

He also cites the onerous expense--which NACS estimates at about $20,000 per year, per store, and time, which the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) puts at more than 14 million hours--required for compliance.

He adds that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) Preliminary Regulatory Impact Analysis could not quantify any benefits to the menu labeling regulations because about 95% of food items sold in c-stores already display nutrition information.

He said that U.S. representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and more than 80 others are championing the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2013 (HR 1249) to offer convenience stores, grocery stores and delivery operations a "custom fit." The Senate is also considering companion legislation (SB 1756).

"The bill is exactly what its name says: a common-sense approach that lets delivery establishments provide calorie counts with online orders, offer flexibility in labeling items that are variable or intended for multiple customers, allow for inadvertent product variations, and most importantly, limits the labeling rules to real restaurants," concluded Call.

Click here to read the complete commentary in Roll Call.

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