We love all of our clients, but we especially love food clients. Why? Everyone has to eat, and more importantly, everyone likes to eat, so there’s already a solid foundation to work off of when marketing food products and restaurants. Also, takeout delivered to the office every now and then doesn’t suck either.
A few years back, the Obama administration teamed up with the FDA to create new requirements about food retailers and the disclosure of nutrition information. A new regulation that applies to retail food establishments with 20 or more locations will require that these establishments provide calorie counts for all standard items on their menus. This new requirement will force changes to be made to certain marketing materials and even has potential to deter business from those it will affect. The FDA is set to begin regulation on May 5th, 2017.
Ok, so Burger King has to start providing nutrition facts on their menus, so what? The issue lies in the FDA’s definition of “menu.” It says that a menu is anything that lists or has an image of at least one standard menu item, includes the price of the item, and can be used by a customer to make an order (this includes phone numbers and websites). By this definition, almost all advertising materials would be considered “menus,” and therefore, must include nutritional information. Note that it’s not compliant with the regulation to simply throw the calorie count in the fine print; it must be printed in a size that is no smaller than that used for the name or price of the food item.
The purpose of the legislation is to provide consumers with nutritional information so they can make the best nutritional decisions for themselves (AKA, eat healthier). The problem is that if you’re thinking about ordering a Whopper and then you see on the coupon you’re using that it has 800 calories, you might decide not to order it. The argument can also be made that anyone who orders a Whopper is well-aware that Whoppers are packed full of calories, and they’ve made the decision to eat it anyway. Forcing them to look at the calorie count isn’t going to change their decision.
Research on whether menu labeling actually affects consumer decisions about nutrition is still unclear, but it seems to me it would likely drive at least some consumers away. Good for our health? Absolutely. Good for business? Maybe not.
Not only could the new menu labeling standard affect sales for food retailers, it’s creating obstacles for their marketing departments and external ad agencies. Having to include caloric information in the ads they create is going to affect the way they can be designed, how the copy reads, and more. The way the regulation will affect digital advertising is still a bit unclear, so marketers will need to pay attention and get informed, so not to violate the rule.
Some think the new menu labeling regulation is a good way to encourage Americans to make smarter nutritional choices, and others believe the government is just poking its nose where it shouldn’t be. I think it’s safe to say the new regulation isn’t going to put anyone out of business, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that America may sell fewer XL pizzas in 2017. We can’t say how the legislation will comprehensively affect food retailers, but be on the lookout for upcoming changes in the way they’re marketed.