A proposed rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandating restaurants, grocery and convenience stores with 20-plus locations to list calorie information on menus and menu boards sparked outcry today from the National Grocery Association (NFA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI).
Citing a "regulatory overreach," NGA President Peter J. Larkin stated that the menu labeling law was designed for restaurants, and its subjection over supermarkets will impose "a large and costly regulatory burden on our members."
To provide further clarification, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg hosted a conference call with reporters on Tuesday shortly after releasing the final rules to identify reasons for including supermarkets within a mandate originally designed for the restaurant sector, as well as the types of foods included within the rules and those that are exempt.
Noting that grocery stores are increasingly incorporating more prepared items into their menus and therefore act as a restaurant destination, FDA spokeswoman Jessica Leighton said the agency's intention was never to include all grocery items under the rule, but rather just those foods that mimic the restaurant experience – ready-to-eat meal solutions that are likely to be consumed immediately, like sandwiches, pizza, fried and rotisserie chicken and other similar fare.
Among the food items that are exempt from the rule are fresh-cut vegetables, deli meats and food displayed in bins, such as granola and nuts. These items, according to Leighton, are designed to be consumed over a period of time, likely by more than one person, and are often prepared with other ingredients. "These were never meant to be covered," she said.
Other exemptions include items identified as temporary or seasonal – offered by a retailer for fewer than 60 days – including daily specials, foods at a salad or hot bar, like potato salad and cole slaw, and holiday offerings like Thanksgiving stuffing. Custom and made-to-order prepared foods also are not subject to the rule.
In addition, the menu labeling rule now also includes certain alcoholic beverages. On-premise beverages will be required to list their calorie counts, while alcohol on grocery store shelves will not, the FDA said.
As PG previously reported, if the proposed rules are implemented, retailers will have one year to comply from their federal register, on or around Dec. 1. When reached for comment, the FDA failed to outline how retailers' compliance would be monitored in-store, as well as penalties grocers will face for non-compliance.