Sometime next year, all of us who dine out will find a new offering on the menu: nutrition disclosure. This new regulatory requirement, part of the healthcare legislation enacted earlier this year, brings with it a great business opportunity in customer relations for companies that sell to food service operations.
Your customers are about to go through what you experienced 20 years ago under the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act of 1990. The food processing industry did not find it easy to implement mandatory nutritional labeling, but it accomplished the change. Now, your experience can help your customers provide the accountability and transparency being asked of them.
First, what are the new requirements? The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 in Section 4205 amended the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by requiring chain restaurants, similar food establishments and vending machines with 20 or more locations to provide specific nutrition labeling information. Calorie content must be posted on menus, menu boards and drive-through boards. Also, buffets, salad bars and other self-service items must provide caloric information adjacent to the item. Additional nutrition information must be provided in writing (for example, a brochure). Operators must list calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein, plus a succinct statement of suggested daily calorie intake. Those requirements cover nearly all the components now found in the Nutrition Facts panel on packaged foods. The act gave responsibility for regulating the food service industry in this matter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The law requires FDA to publish proposed regulations within one year of the measure’s March 23, 2010, enactment date. FDA opened the docket to public comment on this for 60 days, starting July 7.
Second, and more importantly, what does this food service situation have to do with the baking and snack industries? Nothing, unless your company also operates a restaurant chain or vending machines in 20 or more locations. But the new rules will apply to your food service customers, and here’s where the business opportunity occurs.
You’ve already done the work to determine calorie and nutrient content for your consumer-labeled foods. You have the statistical and analytical tools and access to the resources required. You use these every time you introduce a new product, change a formulation or alter a serving size.
While the largest food service organizations have already begun to staff up to meet this challenge, nearly all midsize and small chains will struggle to comply. The nutrient declaration process will be entirely new to most of your food service customers. At the minimum, they will expect you to provide nutrition information specific to your products. Why not take this opportunity to build deeper relationships with those customers by offering your experience, insight and references? You can be a big help to them as they go through the regulatory “full disclosure” process.
In today’s highly competitive business environment, you can turn your costs for regulatory labeling compliance into an investment in customer service.
Laurie Gorton, executive editor, email@example.com