Once we have to put calorie counts on our menus, how do we retain those customers? The food hasn’t changed; it is now just awareness.
– Marketing Manager, C-Store Chain
Menu labeling—for calories in particular—has been around at the municipal level (most notably in New York City) for some time now, and in 2010 federal legislation was proposed (and lobbied against) as part of the Affordable Care Act.
While the research on the effectiveness of calorie labeling on public health is somewhat inconclusive, I think most operations who have gone through the process (even purveyors of calorie-rich food like doughnuts) will tell you that it hasn’t been the death knell for business that was predicted. If anything, it offers new opportunities to introduce healthy products that show well on a menu board with nutrition facts. While the public health effectiveness might be sketchy, the benefit of transparency for consumers is clearer.
Marion Nestle, on her Food Politics blog, summarizes some key research on the topic:
- “A CDC study reports that nearly all adults say they notice menu calorie labels, but only 57% say they use them.
- Research on the effectiveness of menu labeling has yielded mixed results and more research is needed, says a review published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- One recent study says menu labeling has little influence on calories ordered regardless of how overweight people are.”
My advice is to start by talking with some operators who have been through labeling to get their perspectives. Don’t fear a collapse of your operation—there is plenty of unwavering demand for all sorts of foods. But do think about scaling back or reducing items that won’t fare well on a label and introducing some new items that will. Clearly things are moving towards the direction of labeling so use this time while the details are being debated to prepare.
More specifics on the legislation here.