Industry News | April 27, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

How One Fast Casual Faced the Menu Labeling Rule

Costa Vida was founded in 2003. Costa Vida
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As the FDA’s food labeling rule fast approaches, those restaurants that must comply are preparing for a new age of transparency. For operators behind the curve, the May 5 enforcement, which requires restaurants and other away-from-home food retailers to include calorie counts on menus and signage, could appear a bit daunting. In the case of brands already living this ideal, it’s business as usual.

The rule applies to any restaurant or retailer serving food for away-from-home consumption with more than 20 locations “doing business under the same name … and offering for sale substantially the same menu items,” says the FDA website. This includes franchises that operate with the same name as other franchises or parent companies.

Read more on the rule.

The National Restaurant Association released a statement backing the rule on Thursday:

“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. If the federal standard is repealed, we will once again return to this patchwork approach that will be even more burdensome for restaurants to implement and will not have the legal safeguards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,” said Cicely Simpson, executive vice president of Government Affairs & Policy, National Restaurant Association, in a statement.

At Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill, a fast casual franchise that began in 2003, COO Jeff Jacobsen says it’s all about preparation and making sure the numbers provided are accurate. Here is how the brand is preparing for the May 5 enforcement.

Transparency doesn't seem to be something Costa Vida runs away from. The opposite really. From that perspective, do you believe the new rule could be a step in the right direction for fast casual and quick service to begin paying attention to mindful eating and how important that truly is to today's consumer?

Consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever, and use that information to make better choices. For years consumers have had the ability to review nutritional information for the products they purchase at the grocery store. We view this rule as an extension of sharing information so that our guests can make better informed decisions when they choose what to eat for their meal.

When you operate a chain and a franchise system, operationally speaking, what is it like to prepare for this rule as well as meet the requirements?

The biggest thing that we needed to prepare for was completing the lab work so that the information we provide is accurate for our guests. This is not something that we completed alone. By engaging a certified nutrition lab we ensured that the information we share is correct.

How do you see this affecting the industry as a whole? Especially some of the chains who are not already lining up their menus with the better-for-you ideals of younger diners?

One of the greatest things about our industry is that consumers vote with their wallets. When you have great products and serve them in an inviting environment, guests reward you. As far as how sharing nutritional information goes in the consumer’s decision making process, I would imagine that there are a number of people that will change their behaviors. That being said, dining out for many people is a special occasion in which they may feel they deserve to splurge on their meal to make the experience special.

How do you see this rule evolving and how do you see restaurants evolving with it?

I believe that the rule will continue to focus on menu transparency, and helping consumers make informed decisions. Restaurants will need to keep up in providing that information in a clear, easy to access fashion.