During the recent VIBE Conference session “The Five ‘W’s and one ‘H’ of Nutrition Labeling and Alcohol-Where Are We Now?,” operators heard in detail what the upcoming imposition of rules concerning information on food and beverage nutrition will really mean. Bear in mind, however, that as of the date of this article’s publishing some decisions at the federal level still have yet to be finalized.
First things first: Despite what operators may have heard through the various grapevines, these new food and beverage rules will not affect independent bars, restaurants, or even food trucks. However, it's still important for independents to see what the chain operators will be facing to be better prepared in case legislators one day turn their sites to single-unit operations or operations with under 20, 10, etc., units. Second, for those who are unaware, this ruling is a part of the Affordable Care Act.
Providing new levels of beverage nutritional info is just around the corner and the whole thing will be very complicated according to Joan McGlockton, vice president for food policy for the National Restaurant Association. By as early as December 2016, operations that are part of a chain of 20 or more units will be required by the Food and Drug Administration to provide nutritional and caloric information for each beverage alcohol product that is on the menu. Even self-service beer that customers help themselves to from a cooler will be covered under these new rules for operations that fit the standard, but specific rules are likely to be complicated when they finally arrive later this year, reports McGlockton.
Operators falling under the rule will be required to list on menus and menu boards caloric information. For example, if wine is sold by the glass, caloric information must be listed for the glass of wine. If the same wine is sold by the bottle, then the operator has the option of providing the caloric information for the entire bottle or for each glass it contains. In other words, the wine can be described as “120 calories per glass, with six glasses per bottle.”
However, beverages on display - like spirit bottles on the back bar - that are not also listed on the menu are exempt. If, however, you provide a separate spirit list, each individual spirit will then need to be listed along with its caloric count.
According to Lynn Omlie, general counsel of the Distilled Spirits Council, until information is available for all products on the menu, a covered establishment will either have to arrange for laboratory testing or remove the items from the menu. Obviously, either option will have a negative financial effect upon the beverage alcohol industry and the profitability of restaurateurs. There are also discrepancies that currently exist within the federal government regarding the way alcohol calories are calculated, said Omlie. For example, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) uses 6.9 calories/gram of alcohol and rounds to the nearest calorie, whereas the Food and Drug Administration uses 7.07 calories/gram of alcohol and rounds to the nearest 10-calorie increment (if the amount is greater than 50 calories).
The situation is complicated for operators in that wine, beer and spirit suppliers are not required by their controlling agencies to supply similar data on their labels. Any state or local rules will be wiped away by the federal statute, but operators in the dark need to check in with the NRA or their headquarters and being preparations now.