Nutrition lobbyist Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says consumer advocates heard the same kind of complaining from the packaged foods industry before they were required to put nutrition information on the backs of food items. Supermarkets and convenience stores should be included because they are breaking more and more into the prepared foods business, she says.
"The supermarket industry is positioning itself as a place to buy prepared items so you don't have to go out to eat or cook," she says, arguing that a rotisserie chicken that is labeled with a calorie count at a takeout restaurant should also be labeled at a grocery store.
The idea of menu labeling is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are figuring out what to eat. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their website. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items.
Menus and menu boards will also tell diners that a 2,000-calorie daily diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice, noting that individual calorie needs may vary.
The labeling requirements were added to the health bill with the support of the restaurant industry, which has faced a growing patchwork of laws from cities and states. New York City was the first in the country to put a calorie posting law in place, and other cities and states have followed since then. Several restaurant chains have already put calories on menus and menu boards nationwide.
Scott DeFife of the National Restaurant Association says the supermarkets are exaggerating how much it would cost them to implement the rules. The restaurant industry has lobbied for the prepared foods in supermarkets and convenience stores to be included, saying they are selling essentially the same things.
DeFife says some convenience stores have even joined the National Restaurant Association as many gas stations now include full restaurants in their stores.
"It's about the food, not the format," he says.
Not all restaurants have been fully supportive, though. A coalition of pizza chains — including Domino's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut franchise holders — have pushed for changes to the proposed rules that would allow more flexibility in how calories are posted because of endless combinations of pizza toppings. The coalition claims there are 34 million ways to order a pizza.
"When you're a small pizza operator trying to get by on tight margins, regulations like this really affect your bottom line, hurting your ability to grow and hire," Domino's Pizza franchisee Jonathan Sharp of Abilene, Texas, said last summer.
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