A “save” for supermarket menu labeling?

December 16, 2013

A proposed bill introduced last month is calling on the FDA to adjust where nutritional information is needed. Find out why this could be a "save" for supermarkets here.

A proposed bill introduced last month by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Angus King (I-ME) is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to adjust the calorie disclosure requirements enacted under the Affordable Care Act (The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2013) to exclude grocery stores and other related businesses.

The Lempert Report agrees (with due respect to two of the most effective and respected people to have served our country as Secretary of Agriculture) that extending a national menu labeling standard to supermarkets would create more confusion and problems than it would solve. 

Senate bill 1756 is a companion to House bill 1249, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which was introduced in March by Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA). It has garnered the support of the likes of FMI and the National Grocers Association, which argue that the cost of compliance for supermarkets would far exceed that of chain restaurants, as restaurants have uniform menus and suppliers, whereas supermarket cafe and deli menus change daily and often supply themselves. The Lempert Report agrees. 

Here’s why:

First off, the loophole that this law was attempting to close was created when restaurants were previously exempted from the National Labeling Education Act. The items that fill our grocery store shelves, an average supermarket stocks over 35,000 foods and beverages, already carry detailed nutritional information on over 95%; including calories, types of fats, sugars, sodium, protein, as well as vitamins and minerals. In addition, unlike restaurants, these packages also include detailed ingredient, country of origin, and allergen information. Information that empowers shoppers to make informed nutritional choices. Are we that concerned that shoppers won’t turn around the package to read this information?

Supermarkets and restaurants are different. Yes, they both sell food – but supermarkets, unlike chain restaurants, do not take a cookie-cutter approach to the prepared foods they sell. A chain restaurant develops a sandwich or meal in a test kitchen over a period of weeks or months, then, internally or externally analyzes it for labeling, ingredients, and nutrition. On the other hand, a supermarket chef cooks freshly made prepared foods daily, often based on the foods and ingredients available that day – sometimes determined by the seasonality of the produce. Or the produce department cuts fresh pineapple, or other fruits and vegetables in the store and packages them for the convenience of their shoppers. 

It is impossible to build “mini-labs” in every supermarket in the nation to analyze each meal or food. The cost and time to analyze these foods would frankly drive our supermarkets away from preparing and selling these foods – which shoppers today demand and enjoy. In fact, according to Erik Lieberman, regulatory counsel for FMI, the regulation would entail upward of 1,000 items per store as opposed to the 60 or 70 in a typical restaurant, which would translate to tens of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars invested into record-keeping systems- which, not to mention would probably keep supermarket prepared food offerings stagnant, as not to add more work to an already complex process.

Let’s not force fit legislation as a quick fix, or to make headlines – The Lempert Report believes that we should look at every food establishment for what they are, what they can do, and what the shopper wants, and what will empower them to make the correct nutritional decisions.