Menu Regs and Supermarket Foodservice

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Menu Regs and Supermarket Foodservice

By Bob Ingram - 01/18/2011

The new food safety laws, if properly overseen and enforced, should certainly benefit  supermarket foodservice, but for quite awhile I’ve been wondering about what effect, if any, the recently passed law that mandates that restaurants with over 20 units must provide calorie counts on their menus will have on supermarket foodservice operations.

Turns out the folks at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have been doing more than wondering , according to FMI’s regulatory counsel, Erik Lieberman, who told me that there is no mention per se of supermarkets in the legislation’s language, but rather that it applies to restaurants “and similar retail establishments” of over 20 units where more than 25 percent of sales are of food sold on the premises for immediate consumption.

Does that include supermarkets? “Hopefully,” Lieberman answered, “they’ll apply the definition in a narrow fashion.”  Evidently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has, says Lieberman, pointing to the agency’s “burden estimate” – the cost of compliance – issued in November that’s expected to cost supermarkets roughly $29 million. “Our estimate is much higher,” affirmed Lieberman said. He went on that the FDA’s estimate is that 40 items in supermarkets that would be affected and “hopefully that’s the case, which is a very narrow segment.”

Still, Lieberman continued, “A lot of our members don’t have the resources to test in-house and would have to hire new people at $80,000 to $100,000 annually.” What’s more, the FDA says the testing cost to determine calorie count would be $269 per item, while FMI says it would be more like $500 to $1,000 per item. FDA estimates it would cost $500 per unit to change menu boards, but FMI’s estimate is more like $1,000 to $1,500 “Those are some of the costs we could face,” he said.

But, again, Lieberman is hopeful that the law will be applied in a narrow fashion to supermarket foodservice operations. “It remains to be seen,” he noted.

Of course, if the Republicans are able to repeal the Health Care law, all bets are off. “The chances of repeal being enacted into law during the Obama administration, however, are extremely remote,” Lieberman summed.