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The FDA menu labeling regulations: tips to get you ready

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist,

New Year brings new resolutions, and it is a perfect time to prepare for what lies ahead in 2011.

If you are an operator, you are aware of the new FDA menu labeling law due to be finalized possibly as early as March. Whether you are a 20+ outlet chain or an independent, the reality is that consumer demand for nutritional information is growing.  And, if you want to meet the growing demands of your customers, you will need to be able to provide them with nutritional data.

When dealing with something new and unfamiliar, it is best to be well prepared. Here are some questions to consider as you prepare to tackle the new requirements.

Do I have the right resources to generate nutritional information for my recipes?

According to the FDA, nutritional information can be generated via such ‘reasonable means’ as  nutrient databases and laboratory analysis. Based on your budget and objectives, consider researching which resources are right for you.

What is it going to cost me?

Depending on the type of operation you are running, you will need to consider where you would like nutritional data to appear. Regular menus, menu boards, online menus are some of the most common examples. You will also need to invest in a professional nutrition analysis program. These start from as low as $29.95 to $100-$200 a month. Some offer a bundle of functions to complement the nutritional analysis such as menu costing and inventory control tools. If you’ve been relying on excel spreadsheets up until now, this may be the perfect time to consider an upgrade.

How do I want nutritional data to be displayed on my menus?

Before printing your next set of menus, think about where you would like your caloric information to appear. For example, it can show up in a separate column or under the description of each dish. Making sure the overall look of the menu is consistent with your brand messaging is definitely something to consider.

Are my recipes easily accessible?

The FDA will provide a time period to allow operators to make the transition. However, staying ahead of the curve allows you to capture the initial opportunity. Give yourself time to organize your recipes so they are easily accessible once you are ready to run them through the nutritional analysis. It will save you a lot of time and any last minute headaches.

Am I prepared to make adjustments?

Imagine this scenario: you run your recipes through the nutritional analysis and your best seller turns out to be 1,900 Calories (out of the recommended 2,000 for the day)!  You display it on the menu and before you know it, the sales of your best selling item plummet. Are you ready to make necessary adjustments?

Is my staff prepared to answer questions?

Your front-of-the-house personnel generally represent the face of your business. How do you want them to communicate the new menus to your customers? Are there new opportunities to capitalize on to attract new business? What types of questions can they anticipate? How knowledgeable would you like them to be in order to speak intelligently about the menus?

All these questions should be considered as you prepare for the upcoming menu labeling regulations. As you head into 2011, think about what you can do now to make the transition easier and how you can use the new law to benefit your business.

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