New Menu Labeling Requirements for Retail Food Chains: Possible Impact on Small Business Restaurants

By Bolton, Dawn Langkamp | Entrepreneurial Executive, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

New Menu Labeling Requirements for Retail Food Chains: Possible Impact on Small Business Restaurants


Bolton, Dawn Langkamp, Entrepreneurial Executive


INTRODUCTION

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States during the past 20 years; currently more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese (CDC, 2012). Additionally, it is estimated that nearly one-third of the calories consumed by Americans come from food prepared outside the home (Federal Register, 2011). In light of these trends, legislation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, requires retail food establishments with 20 or more locations (doing business under the same name and offering essentially the same food items), to provide calorie information for standard menu items (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2013). According to a preliminary regulatory impact analysis by the Office of Regulations Policy and Social Science, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, these menu labeling requirements "should help consumers to make more informed choices about the nutritional content of the food they purchase" and "should help consumers limit excess calorie intake and understand how the foods that they purchase at these establishments fit within their daily caloric and other nutritional needs" (2011, p. 3).

These mandated menu labeling requirements prompted new research on the effectiveness of such labeling. Recent studies focus on the individual consumer (e.g., food choices, given caloric labeling) or on the food itself (e.g., the change of menu items given the new legislation). However, little has been written about the impact of the legislation on the retail food chains' business, and even less has been considered for those small business restaurants (i.e., food establishments with less than 20 locations) that do not fall under the legislation.

Following a brief summary of a sampling of the two types of recent studies (i.e., focus on the individual and focus on the food), the impact of the legislation on both food chain restaurants and small business restaurants is considered. Finally, research ideas on the impact of businesses not falling under the guidelines of the menu labeling legislation are offered.

RECENT RESEARCH ON THE EFFECTS OF MENU LABELING LEGISLATION

Since the legislation requiring retail food chains (of 20 or more locations) to post calorie information for standard menu items, research has focused on the individual's food choices or on the food offered by the retail chain establishments. Results have been mixed on whether or not menu labeling influences the individual's purchase decision (Vadiveloo, Dixon, & Elbel, 2011; Dumanovsky, Huang, Nonas, Matte, Bassett, Silver, 2011). A recent dissertation found that providing calorie information did not influence participants purchasing behavior (Higgins, 2012), while Ellison, Lusk, and Davis found that "calorie labels in restaurants can be effective, but only among those restaurant patrons who have lower levels of health consciousness" (2013, p. 8).

Qualitative research, in the form of focus groups, was used by Schindler, Kiszko, Abrams, Islam, and Elbel in determining that while most of the subjects were aware of menu labeling, "the majority were not regularly using the calorie information to guide their food choices" (2013, p. 668). Schindler et al. (2013) further identified individual-level factors taking precedence over calorie counts when subjects made food choices including a lack of understanding of "the meaning of a calorie or the importance of calories on health outcomes" (2013, p. 669). This supports work by Headrick, Rowe, Kendall, Zitt, Bolton, and Langkamp-Henken (2013) who found "a lack of basic nutrition knowledge about personal energy needs in individuals across all BMI categories regardless of age, race/ethnicity, level of education, or work/training in a health-related field" (2013, p. 1). The authors further conclude that "Calorie labeling of foods may be effective in enabling consumers to make informed decisions on the selection of foods that fit within their daily energy requirements only if they know their daily requirements" (2013, p. …

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