John “Jack” Whipple was no stranger to the congressional halls of power in Washington, D.C., when he was named president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants , a division of the National Retail Federation, in May 2006. The foodservice industry veteran had already logged 25 years of service with Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s  Corp., holding a number of related posts, including corporate vice president of government relations.
Recently, the NCCR, together with the NRF, completed its 73rd Annual Washington Leadership Conference and Annual Lobby Days, during which Whipple accompanied chain leaders up to Capitol Hill. There, they visited congressional offices and discussed issues confronting the foodservice industry.
What were the chief issues you discussed?
There were two priorities. One is food and commodity prices, which is clearly top of mind for our membership. Congress addressed the issue last fall [with the energy bill calling for increases in corn-based ethanol production.] Unfortunately, here we are just a few months later trying to convince Congress to re-examine the bill’s impact on prices. We visited over 20 congressional offices and practically everyone expressed an interest in re-examining it and taking appropriate action.
What was the second priority?
Nutritional labeling. Many in the industry have been providing comprehensive [nutritional] information for years and they believe it’s a good thing. Providing information in a comprehensive and consistent manner is good for us and [consumers].
Unfortunately, jurisdictions at the local level are adopting proposals that are applicable only within those jurisdictions, and our members are seriously concerned that they’ll end up with a crazy quilt pattern of laws and regulations.
At the same time, another real concern is that several of these jurisdictions are only mandating that caloric information be posted. We think that’s a concern for consumers. In our view, it’s important to have a comprehensive view of nutritional information, like sugar, sodium, protein, fat and carbohydrates. It’s misleading to emphasize caloric information.FAST FACTS
HOME: Harrisburg, Pa. AGE: 62 EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree in political science and government, Elizabethtown College, Pa. HOBBIES: golf, working out, reading CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: having served more than 30 years in the restaurant industry, 25 of which were at McDonald’s; serving at the NCCR
Did you raise any other key issues?
We talked about the [Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act]. Clarifying the language in FACTA is important for the industry, and we’re hopeful the Senate will address it as quickly as possible.
We also discussed the restaurant depreciation issue. That’s an ongoing concern for our industry. While a 15-year depreciation schedule is a more realistic time frame than the current 39.5 years, it really doesn’t even totally reflect the reality of what restaurants face in terms of refurbishing. Restaurants need to be refreshed much more frequently. This is a piece of legislation the industry has pursued in the past and will continue to pursue. Of course, the fiscal picture in Washington is very tight right now.
How should operators deal with the issues?
I think the public policy agenda facing chains is as challenging as I’ve seen in my 30 years with the industry. It makes it even more important for chain operators to meet and develop working relationships with elected officials in Washington and back home, and to work hard to develop an open dialogue with officials to educate them on the nature of our business and its challenges and to serve as a resource for questions. The need for that is more important than it’s ever been.