Restaurants scrambling to comply with upcoming federal menu labeling requirements now have a little more breathing room, after the Obama Administration delayed the compliance date by a year on Thursday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, citing the need for the agency to provide more clarification on the rules amid opposition from supermarkets, has delayed the rule’s implementation until Dec. 1, 2016. The FDA published the rules in November, and previously set a deadline of December 2015.
“Industry, trade and other associations, including the grocery industry, have asked for an additional year to comply with the menu labeling final rule, beyond the original December 2015 compliance date,” the FDA said in its announcement. “The FDA agrees additional time is necessary for the agency to provide further clarifying guidance to help facilitate efficient compliance across all covered businesses and for covered establishments to come into compliance with the final rule.”
The FDA’s move comes two months after a bipartisan group of 32 senators asked the FDA for clarity on the regulations as well as another year for businesses to comply with the rules.
“Businesses, particularly small businesses, will need appropriate time to budget and plan accordingly to meet the rule’s requirements to provide nutrition information to consumers that is understandable and clear, and therefore of the greatest value to consumers,” the senators wrote.
The menu labeling law has been years in the making — it was required as part of the Affordable Care Act legislation that was approved in 2010. The National Restaurant Association was among more than 70 groups that had pushed for the nationwide standard — which the association considers more desirable than a bunch of different state regulations.
“We have been in full support of a nationwide uniform menu labeling standard since the very start,” NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney said in a statement. “This standard makes good sense for the industry and our customers. As we await further guidance from FDA, some of our members are ready to implement menu labeling while others still need more time. We will continue to work with FDA and our membership to ensure a smooth transition for restaurants and consumers alike.”
Many chains have been long preparing for the rules. And many chains have already started complying with the regulations, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Panera Bread.
But the association had been pushing to include other establishments that are increasingly competitive with the restaurant industry. The rules published in November provided that, requiring that restaurants and “similar food establishments” that include take-out pizza concepts as well as grocery store delis, coffee shops and movie theaters.
Grocers in particular were worried about the law because many of them don’t typically have menu boards for their delis, or they have unique local products that may not have easy-to-determine calories. Grocers are pushing legislation that would free any establishment that gets less than 50 percent of revenues from prepared food from complying with the regulation.
“We’re encouraged that FDA’s commitment will give us more time to at least garner some clarity and answers without feeling rushed to make difficult business decisions in an attempt to comply by December 1, 2015, with regulations that are unclear,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, said in a statement. The FMI is a trade group that represents the supermarket industry.
As it stands, the law requires that calorie counts be posted on menus or menu boards at companies with 20 or more locations. The FDA has estimated that the law could affect 1,640 chains around the country, with a total of 278,600 locations.
Complying with the law would cost $1,800 per limited service restaurant and less than $1,000 for a full-service concept, according to the FDA.