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Survey: Consumers Want Widespread Calorie Labeling on Menus

Some restaurants say calorie labeling impractical for their venues

The majority of Americans would like to see calories listed next to many menu offerings that are set to be exempt from new labeling regulations, according to a recent survey of approximately 1,000 adults.

The poll, commissioned by consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), found that 70 percent of respondents would like to see calorie information on movie theater menus; 68 percent favor calorie labeling for alcoholic beverages and 77 percent want labeling next to pizza slices, hot dogs and burritos served at convenience stores.

All of these food items and venues are currently not affected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s preliminary version of calorie labeling requirements for chain restaurants, mandated by the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The proposed rule, published last year, obliges food establishments with 20 or more locations to post calorie information next to menu items, but does not apply to movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys, sports arenas or any other whose primary purpose is not food service, according to FDA. It also exempts alcoholic beverages sold at chain restaurants.

These survey results, released Monday, suggest that consumers may disagree with the exceptions.

“We’re very concerned about the industry not applying menu labeling as broadly as the law requires,” said Margot Wootan, nutrition director at CSPI, in an interview with Food Safety News. “We’re hoping that this helps to show that they can and should apply menu labeling to as many venues as possible and to all menu items, as the law requires.”

“If McDonald’s is providing calorie counts for its sodas, why shouldn’t 7-11 or Regal Cinemas?,” asked Wootan in a press release Monday.  “If Cracker Barrel has to list calories for its salad bar items, why shouldn’t Whole Foods or Safeway?”

The consumer opinions in this poll echo those in a letter from health organization officials written last month asking FDA to extend calorie labeling rules to cover all retail food establishments.

“Unfortunately, the definition of similar retail food establishments used in the proposed regulations would significantly limit the ability of consumers to make informed choices by reducing the number of venues providing calorie labeling,” read the letter, signed by the executive directors of the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, along with 19 others.

“The definition also would be unfair, as some chains that provide ready‐to‐eat foods are covered and others are not,” the letter continued. “Many of the foods sold in the venues that the Administration has proposed exempting are essentially identical to foods that will be covered in restaurants.”

Some food chains have argued that since their establishments offer varying portion sizes and topping options, along with remote ordering options, calorie labeling on in-store menus is impractical.

Two years ago, six of the country’s leading pizza companies came together to form the American Pizza Community, in part to shape menu labeling requirements that affect the pizza industry. The group says that customizable pizzas vary so much and so many consumers order online or via telephone that posting calorie information would be inefficient.

“At Domino’s, roughly 90 percent of our customers never even walk into a store to order, so  having expensive menu boards with calorie labeling that need frequent updating is not only providing no useful information to our customers, but it is also creating an expensive burden for our small business franchises,” said Jenny Fouracre, Director of Investor Relations and Legislative Affairs in an e-mailed statement to Food Safety News.

“We’re also asking for menu labeling on standard built pizzas, not custom pizzas, since there are over 34 million ways to order a custom pizza,” says Fouracre.

Wootan, on the other hand, says customizable foods should not receive exceptions for calorie labeling requirements.

“They’re saying that the toppings for pizza can vary, but that’s no different than how sandwiches vary depending on the bread, toppings and meat,” she says. “The law only requires that standard menu items are labeled as they’re usually offered for sale. If there are variable toppings or possible combinations then companies can post a range of calories for those items.”

After releasing its draft regulations, FDA said it hoped to have a final rule published by the end of 2011. No final rule has yet been issued, but some experts predict that it will be released this fall.

The agency did not respond to Food Safety News‘ request for comment on the regulations.

“We’re anxious to see a final regulation that we were all expecting by the end of 2011, and already here it is June of 2012,” said Wootan. “We also want to make sure that that rule is covering as many outlets and all menu items that the law requires.”

Poll results can be accessed here.

© Food Safety News
  • Maxine

    Of course, CSPI is not a “consumer advocacy group”. Not even close. CSPI is an extremist activist clique deceptively promoting itself as an advocate for consumers. In reality CSPI does not advocate for me, for my family or for the majority of ordinary consumers. Anything CSPI says or does is suspect.

  • Tim

    Cracker Barrel has a salad bar? Since when? Sounds like CSPI needs to get their facts straight. Then again, that’s just their normal way of doing things.