Menu-Labeling Rule Takes Effect, but Grocers Still Seek Clarity
The May 7 compliance date of the Food and Drug Administration’s menu-labeling rule has arrived, but grocers are far from satisfied with its provisions, and are vowing to find a viable way forward. For now, though, they’re doing their best to comply.
“We are trying to make lemonade out of the lemons FDA presented – working to implement a law that was poorly designed for the businesses we represent and poses liability challenges at the state and local levels with regard to enforcement,” asserted Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer and SVP, government relations at Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI). “That said, our members have exerted an extraordinary effort in analyzing and labeling hundreds and in some cases, more than 1,000 items, thus enabling customers to identify more clearly the wide array of healthy options available in a grocery store.”
“Independent supermarket operators are committed to providing their customers with transparency on the food products they sell and have been working hard to bring their operations in compliance with the FDA’s menu-labeling regulations, but uncertainty with how to implement the regulation still exists,” noted Greg Ferrara, EVP of advocacy, public relations, and member services at Arlington-based National Grocers Association (NGA). “A one-size-fits-all regulation that was originally designed for chain restaurants is unworkable and needs congressional action to address the problems and burdens this law will place on independent grocers. NGA and its members look forward to working with stakeholders to find a commonsense solution that provides predictability and protects America’s Main Street grocers from frivolous lawsuits.”
Meanwhile, making a virtue of necessity, retailers such as Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets are touting their adherence to the rule.
“Our company has always believed that customers have a right to product information, and this FDA regulation is in keeping with steps we’d already taken at our own initiative,” observed Wegmans Nutrition and Labeling Manager Jane Andrews. “We want to give customers tools they can use to make informed decisions about what they’ll eat and what’s the right portion size for them personally.”
The grocer has already posted calorie counts in many places around its store, including menu boards in its Pizza Shop, Sub Shop and The Buzz coffee bar; signs near self-serve hot and cold food bars; signs in the bakery near bulk items such as muffins, bagels or doughnuts; package labels for grab-and-go fresh items like sushi, salads, soups and sandwiches; and in the back of its catering catalog, along with gluten and other information.
The rule requires grocery stores with 20 or more locations to provide calorie counts, and nutritional information upon request, for “restaurant-type” foods. Last fall, food retailers responded that FDA’s supplemental draft guidance on the rule was insufficient to address their concerns regarding compliance.