Recently, the news that the calorie count for a McDonald’s chicken caesar salad (730) is more than a double Big Mac (680) made headlines across the nation. Since when do calories make the news? Since the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations officially took effect this month.
What Are the New Regulations?
The new FDA regulation requires all restaurants and retail food establishments with 20 locations or more to include calorie and nutrition information on their menus, menu boards and signage. These same businesses must also provide, upon request, the following written nutrition information for standard menu items: total calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and protein.
Additionally, two statements must be displayed—one stating that written nutrition information is available upon request and the other detailing the daily recommended calorie intake, indicating that 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice but that calorie needs vary.
What Kinds of Restaurants Are Included?
- Chain restaurants, quick service and sit-down
- Grocery and convenience stores that serve restaurant-type food
- Food take-out establishments and pizza delivery chains
- Entertainment venues that are part of a chain (e.g., movie theaters, amusement parks)
- Chain cafeterias
- Chain coffee shops and bakeries
Exclusions include: custom orders, daily specials, general use of condiments (syrup on table) and limited time offers (LTOs less than 90 days).
What Does This Mean for Restaurants?
Because the change is happening now, it will be a while before the full impact is known. However, the FDA estimates that the cost to revamp all menus, menu boards and signage (in-store and online) will exceed $560 million dollars.
An unintended consequence of the rule may be that restaurants will have to rethink their product mix. Are consumers discouraged by seeing calorie counts and nutritional information? What will happen when customers see that the salad they’re ordering isn’t less caloric than a burger and fries? Consumers might start opting for lower calorie options that are less profitable.
Since LTOs are not subject to the regulation, we may see an increase in limited time offers. Restaurants may choose to redesign their menus to highlight lower calorie options to distract from the higher calorie choices.
The new regulations may even effect portion size. When we dine out, we eat more. People typically consume 20 to 40 percent more calories in restaurants compared with what they’d eat at home. Reducing portion size will reduce calorie totals.
What Does This Mean for Consumers?
For a long time, consumers were left on their own to determine how many calories they were eating when dining out. Unlike the nutrition facts panels on grocery items, there was no transparency in restaurant food.
Over 40 percent of Americans are considered obese. The American habit of regularly dining out is directly linked to the obesity problem. The hope is that these regulations will help people calculate how many calories they are consuming, and maybe have a positive impact on the obesity rate. However, researchers have found that people who are already calorie-conscious pay more attention to labels, but those who aren’t don’t. In other words, just seeing the information may not automatically change people’s behaviors.
The power of the purse will be a major motivator for restaurants. Consumer’s could sway restaurants to offer healthier recipes by not purchasing the higher calorie options on the menu. Buying lower calorie options may also lower the check average for consumers.
Some consumers may feel like the new regulations are not enough. Concerns over food allergies, the source of food, the way it was grown or even how it was genetically manipulated are on the rise.
How Can We Help?
Fridge can help you analyze your sales data to determine how the new FDA menu regulations are impacting your bottom line. We can help you adjust your product mix, redesign your menus and communicate a message that balances healthy eating with delicious dining out while still getting the experience and convenience.
Emily Carlson, Senior Account Leader