Washington Report: FDA Postpones Menu Labeling Requirement — Again

Video Produced by Denise Toledo

The seven-year journey to menu labeling is once again hitting another hurdle. Initially proposed in 2010 along with the Affordable Care Act, this federal mandate, which would enforce that all food establishments of 20 locations or more would be required to list calorie information on menu boards and menus, was supposed to take effect this Friday.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has postponed it again — for the third time. Original deadlines for 2015 and 2016 were pushed off the plate, but the new deadline for food businesses to be transparent with calorie information is May 7, 2018

Prior to the delay announcement earlier this Monday, the National Restaurant Association encouraged the successful implementation of this law, seeing the federal requirement as the final say among a mix of conflicting regional rules and as a protection to small businesses.

"The National Restaurant Association strongly cautions against any actions that would delay implementation of the menu labeling law. Previously, menu labeling laws were being passed on a state-by-state or city-by-city basis and in some cases, counties were competing with cities to pass similar laws," Cicely Simpson, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs & Policy, said in a release. "If the federal standard is repealed, we will once again return to this patchwork approach that will be even more burdensome for restaurants to implement and will not have the legal safeguards included in the federal law. We must protect small businesses by not delaying implementation of this important rule.” 

While the rule first came about to give consumers more education and information on the nutrition of their meals, allowing them to perhaps make alternative choices if they are able to see their fat, sodium, sugar, cholesterol intake, multiple trade groups criticized the rule, saying it did not provide enough flexibility for food sellers that weren't restaurants.  

"I think the delay happened because...the menu-labeling requirements were burdensome to business owners who owned twenty locations. It would have been very expensive for owners to accomplish and most likely not have been successful. The National Restaurant Association wanted it put in place now to alleviate jurisdiction battles across the country. The FDA has delayed to gather further comments and input from the public. This was a smart decision in my opinion," said William Bender, Rock My Restaurant host and founder of restaurant consulting firm W.H. Bender & Associates.

According to Chicago Tribune, a single menu board can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000, and those costs add up, depending  on the size of the chain. Naf Naf Grill, for example, paid $17,000 for new menu boards. Bender also noted that poorly designed menu labeling could be a barrier to sales, saying that the data has to be designed and presented in a guest- and brand-friendly way.

"My advice to operators is they should prepare and design their menu ingredients — and recipes — to provide guest information and market to help achieve their brand’s strategic marketing plan. All decisions from menu development, sourcing ingredients, purchasing, distribution to delivery need to be transparent. Training is essential to teach the food culinary team and sales service team the correct information, so that all brand ServPoints™ are delivered to Guest accurately and professionally. Then we are in a win-win situation and relationship with guests," he said.

Dining

On the other hand, several national chains have supported the federal rule to remove the complications of adjusting to different city, county, and state regulations. Major brands such as McDonald's, Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread, and Starbucks have been fulfilling the requirement ahead of the May 2017 deadline, and even movie theaters were preparing to meet the compliance deadline.

This is a movement Jaclyn Morgan, principal of JM Foodservice Consulting, LLC., agrees with. 

"A restaurant, as a food company, has always carried a burden to supply customers with nutritional information. Ingredient and calorie count information could be stored in a recipe book or within a database in the past.  Now, it needs to be readily available on menus for chains with 20 or more locations as a means of full-disclosure. Many chains have been following this practice for years, and others have met the new standard earlier than the deadline. So, why the delay?" she said, and added that it's workable even for grocery stores.

"Chain grocers and chain convenience stores employ dietitians and executive chefs. Commissaries that produce sandwiches, salads, and more en masse for these establishments have the tools to label ingredients accurately. If there is a recipe of ingredients as well as a knowledge of calories for each ingredient, a calorie count per serving can be mathematically derived. This easily translates to food labels, as well as menu boards.  It’s an investment that we have been prepared for since 2010."

Still, she understands that there are valid arguments on several challenges for implementation, especially for pizza brands. The American Pizza Community, which called for more flexible menu labeling, stated that updating menu boards with calorie information could cost an individual pizza store between $3,500 to $5,500 annually. Crusts, sauces, toppings, and sizes vary drastically, but Morgan still believes it is mathematically achievable. She recommends that because pizza chains portion out toppings for standard items, an algorithm could be close.

"This is the new face of food as politics. The labeling requirements were born as part of the ACA with the intent to reduce obesity in America.  The thought was that people would shy away from foods high in calories and saturated fats as we became more conscious of our individual intake. ...It is a push back for large businesses to save money, even if contrary to public health and nutrition disclosure," Morgan said.

As of today, the FDA is opening another public discussion on the regulations, asking particularly for "approaches to reduce regulatory burden or increase flexibility," as well as recommendations on providing calorie information outside of a menu. Clearly, the reactions to this regulation delay are mixed, and according to the Times-Picayune, the studies on the effectiveness of menu labeling is mixed, as well. Calorie information may reduce purchase in some areas and have minimal impact on others.

Will menu labeling have true real-world behavior change? And how effectively will consumers apply this vast wealth of nutrition information, along with a more transparent restaurant industry that shares its sourcing and food preparation? How much will purchasing habits really transform?

"We all have wondered how much fat, sugar, or calories a dish has at some point during our adulthood. The reason for calorie menu labeling might be the increase in health issues linked with the amount of dining out. The government stepping in is a bit much, as they might seek even more regulations and even taxing for fatty or salty food, much like the sugar tax," Salar Sheik, founder of Savory Hospitality, said.

"All forms of restaurant have increasing challenges on the daily with food cost, labor, marketing, and the list goes on. When will they draw the line with all the hurdles for the operator is the real question that no one can answer. We all have to be prepare, and many are with smaller portions and lighter items, which are lower in fat and calories. The upside will be the restaurants that have been aware of the calorie count can now have a better selling and marketing platform."

So, You Want to Become a Restaurateur? 4 Secrets to Success

So, You Want to Become a Restaurateur? 4 Secrets to Success

By Salar Sheik, Foodable Industry Expert

Many types of people become restaurateurs, from the everyday person working the 9 to 5, to chefs, celebrities, retirees, or business developers. Some are willing to learn the ropes, while others are willing to invest in someone’s expertise to aid them in becoming the restaurateur they envision. The rush to success for many lies in multiple reasons from profit, passion, or a status symbol of their achievement. No matter who you are, however, there are a few things you should know before you start writing checks and cutting ribbons.

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Which Foodservice Trends Will We See in 2017? What Foodable Industry Experts Predict

The new year is upon us and Foodable is beyond excited to see which trends will reign in 2017!

Luckily for you, a few of Foodable’s foodservice industry experts have come to aid you in this arduous task of identifying key trends and making solid predictions. Our experts, who work as restaurant consultants themselves, are in tune with the pulse of the industry and the changing consumers attitudes in foodservice.

Lets see what our experts have to say!

With 34 years of experience in different areas of the foodservice industry, Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™, has identified his big three trends for the year.

African Flavors

“You’re going to see a lot of things like Shawarma and Harissa, and you’re going to come in and see a lot of the chefs...take a lot of those spices and those kinds of flavor profiles and implementing them… You’re going to see that kind of stuff in tacos, barbecue, etc.”

Cooking Classes and Kits

“Restaurants could really take advantage of this and have some options here to have some real cooking classes...or maybe you could do a kit, maybe your own home meal kit, and you can basically send it to people or they can pick it at your restaurant with instructions. Maybe you already have your signature sauces blended for them, so it takes some of the guess work out of them…it’s a huge opportunity for people who want to take advantage of this hot trend.”

Food Halls

"Today, people, they want to mix it up… they want to try out new things. Nothing is better than going to a food hall with your friends and having lots and lots of different options available... There are [great] ones out there in the market. There’s one in Houston, Tex., called Conservatory… There’s another one: Avante in Denver… also the Revival Food Hall in Chicago. Another great concept!”

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Jaclyn Morgan is the owner in principal of JM Foodservice Consulting, LLC with 20 years of experience in equipment product management and category management for grocery retail. She’s also an MAS consultant belonging to the FCSI organization. Below are a couple of trends Morgan sees spilling over into 2017 from 2016, along with the emergence of a trend that is gaining major traction thanks to the fast-advancing-technology environment that we live in nowadays.

Hyper-Local Food

“Customers want to connect personally with their food. This is why hyper-local sourcing is so important. Another interesting side to that is people want global flavor. So it’s very interesting that we want to know where our food comes from and how to be part of our community, but customers want to travel the world at the same time.”

Food Waste Reduction (Sustainability)

“We heard of sustainability in many different ways over the years. We’ve seen it decades ago as back-to-nature, we’ve all heard about going green. So, again, we’re continuing to talk about sustainability and how are we — either as restaurant owners or as customers — ...helping the environment and the community around us. 

This boils down to food waste reduction… Within interior design, right now, sustainability still involves:reclaimed woods and a sense of 'green.' Again, it’s that connection we all want to have back with nature and within our community.”

Digital Collection of Consumer Data (Technology)

“We need to gather feedback from our customers, from social media, from the internet, as quickly and efficiently as possible and work that into an excellent recipe for customer service, to be able to communicate immediately and make an impact.”

As a 15-year veteran in the hospitality world, restaurant consultant and founder of Savory Hospitality, Salar Sheik, builds, grows, manages, expands, and brings clients' food and beverage visions to life. Sheik’s top picks are as follows:

Pasta

"In 2017, we are definitely seeing a big push in crafted pastas, definitely pastas that are housemade from scratch, as well as gluten-free…. We’ve also seen: kelp noodles, rice-based noodles, a lot of great quinoa noodles.… Be on the look out because this definitely fulfills the comfort food section as well as just flavors.”

Korean Food

“It definitely has a great spice profile, a lot of flavors. You’ve seen, I believe, mass chains picking up on the flavor profiles and ingredients from gochujang pepper paste to kimchee, bulgogi burgers. We are already seeing it a bit on the food trucks, but I think it will definitely be a big hit out in the restaurant industry.”

Naturally Fermented Food

“What are naturally fermented foods? More than just pickles. We’ve seen fermented bread, radishes, yogurts, kombucha juice. Naturally fermented foods have been in great popularity in terms of health, flavor profile. Chefs are definitely exploring its ability to enhance dishes. We saw a festival of 5,000 people at Boston Fermented Food Festival. People showed up really enthusiastic… A lot of food critics are saying this is the future of eating. I think in 2017 we will see a whole lot of that!”

Finally, Doug Radkey, an expert in restaurant and bar startup development and founder of Key Restaurant Group in Canada, shared his top three trends for 2017.

Tech-Driven Delivery

“I believe this is continuously going be a disruptor from within the industry and more so with independents in this upcoming year, as it’s more convenient for them to get online ordering, online payments, digital loyalty reward programs. These are all becoming more accessible for them and also affordable.

At the same time, we are also going to see more full-service restaurants get into the take-out and delivery spectrum, delivering food to homes, offices and even hotels…. Also voice-recognition is going to become a bigger thing... [with items such as Amazon‘s Echo] where customers can place an order from their home by simply using their voice."

Garden to Glass with Hyper-Local Products

“Chefs getting into it with their own gardens, more storytelling behind the product, where it’s coming from, and also instead of farm to table, we are going to start seeing more garden to glass for example, on the bar side of things…”

Struggles for Start-Ups in 2017 and Advice

“In terms of cost, [it] is no secret that utilities are continuously rising, food costs are going up, wages continue to go up, which is also creating labor shortages, in terms of having qualified cooks [who] can deliver on high quality, hyper local product, and of course, market saturation, as well. There are plenty of copy-cat type concepts that are out there, making it very difficult for independent aspiring restaurateurs to get into the game. The ideal situation to combat this issue within the industry is to develop a very detailed feasibility study followed by a very thorough concept plan that is profitable, sustainable while executing on a very solid business plan.”

5 Qualities That Make a Chef Great in Today’s Restaurant

5 Qualities That Make a Chef Great in Today’s Restaurant

By Salar Sheik, Foodable Industry Expert

Over the years, I have interviewed, read resumes, and conducted countless chef tastings. The title of chef holds an honor of many hours spent honing and refining one’s skills day in and day out. What differentiates a chef versus a cook can be disputed by many, but most will agree that a chef runs the kitchen and menu at all times. The chef sets the tone and mood of the kitchen — the dishes are his music, his cooks are his orchestra, and the chef is the conductor, setting the right tempo.

Not all great chefs have the same personality. Some may be bolder than others, but they always share the following five qualities, contributing to what makes them a great chef in today’s restaurant.

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