NYC asks for input on a new menu-labeling requirement

Items with high sugar content will need to be flagged, but only if they're exactly what's available in packaged retail form. The targets are beverages.
The requirement is aimed at sugary beverages. | Photo: Shutterstock

New York City has scheduled hearings on a new requirement that local chain restaurants flag beverages and a limited range of other products deemed to contain excessive amounts of sugar.

Starting Dec. 1, local branches of chains with at least 15 units nationwide will be required to put an alert next to the menu listings of sugary options that are sold in the exact same formulations in packaged form. That heads-up consists of an icon depicting a spoonful of sugar.

Fountain-dispensed sodas, fruit drinks and blended coffee beverages are the key intended targets, as city officials noted in their request for comments on the mandate. The law establishing the requirement was approved last year by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Eric Adams.

Grab-and-go snacks, bottled soft drinks and other prepackaged products sold in a qualifying restaurant will be required to carry the alert starting June 19 if they contain at least 50 grams of sugar, which pack about 200 calories.

Nationwide, virtually all packaged foods are required to carry a snapshot on their packaging of the items’ nutrition values, but sugar content is not one of the variables that has to be revealed.

Proponents of the measure say it’s necessary to designate foods that could contribute to diseases like Type 2 diabetes and obesity. They cite findings that 35% of adults nationwide eat in fast-food restaurants, and 28% frequent full-service places. Among those groups, sugary drinks are ordered by 32% and 21%, respectively, according to a 2020 study cited by the lawmakers.

The limitation of the new labeling requirement to restaurant products also available in prepackaged form clearly reflects the city’s focus on sugary soft drinks, since few other items on menus are identical with their retail formulations. The narrowness of the requirement could also spare chains considerable analytical work, since the nutrition profiles of popular soft drinks are readily known.

New York City has been the source of a number of restaurant mandates that are now in place nationwide, such as menu labeling, trans fat bans and smoking prohibitions.

Although the rules imposed by last year’s law have been spelled out in detail, the city is inviting the public to air their opinions and concerns about the regulations between now and May 23. Usually the process is reversed, with the public invited to weigh in on proposed rules before they’re finalized.  

Among the details not yet revealed are what penalties restaurants could face for failure to comply.

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