Preparing for Change: New food guidelines will impact your operation

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Snack Corner

The legal issues that face the food and beverage operations in our theatres are a mountain of moving targets, unpredictable, sometimes confusing, but also dangerous. Pleading ignorance of conflicting rulings will not get you out of violations. As we finish out a great year and look forward to another great year in 2016, we don’t want to risk all our hard-won revenue with complications from legal problems that could be avoided. This is a review of where our big issues stand, the organizations that are working to help you, and the things you need to think about for next year.

The current biggest issue is menu labeling. The FDA final ruling that theatres with more than 20 locations would be included in the compliance to list calorie information on menus and menu boards was to go into effect this December. However, this past July it was extended by another full year to December 2016. The time frame gives the FDA and the market time to sort out some of the finer details and questions about how the ruling is to be applied.

In September, the FDA finally issued a draft guidance document to help with the understanding of the requirements and provide guidance to retailers to implementation. It would be in your best interest to read it. According to the FDA, “This guidance represents the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) current thinking on this topic. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person and does not operate to bind the FDA or the public. You may use an alternative approach if the approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations. If you want to discuss an alternative approach, contact the FDA staff responsible for implementing this guidance. If you cannot identify the appropriate FDA staff, call the telephone number listed on the title page of this guidance.”

The other issues that we currently face are continued legislation around the country to introduce taxes on sugar products, drink size and other calorie restrictions, and actual warning labels. Municipalities across the country have come to the conclusion that they can demonstrate their concern for the obesity problem by taxing sugar products, including food and beverage. Some legislation is focused on labeling and warnings for GMO products. Other caloric/sugar-based legislation is coming in the form of sugar “warnings” (state of New York) and cup sizes (New York and California).

The list is long and growing. You need to use all the resources at your disposal. Both NATO and the NAC have government action committees that are specifically working to represent our interests and inform us of legislation that affects us. Both organizations have online resources, seminars and meetings that you can attend, committees that you can join, and people you can call for help. They also partner with other organizations such as the Beverage Association and Restaurant Association to share resources and content.

Dan Borschke, executive director of the NAC, has made government relations one of the top priorities of his responsibilities. He passionately believes his members must stay on top of these issues and can benefit from combining their voices through the NAC to have some input into legislative decisions. He notes, “NAC didn't have a government-relations effort just five years ago, but with our continuous partnership with NATO, the American Beverage Association, the National Confectioners Association and the National Agricultural Marketing Association, we are not just playing defense but also have an aggressive advocacy program for our members. The real work will continue to be at the municipal and state level, where real budgetary needs are impacting our membership with higher taxes, labeling and actual proposals for product bans. We thank the NAC membership for their continued support of this very important Association obligation."

Some of the things you need to think about for next year include preparation for menu labeling, reading up on the current legislation that affects your theatres, and being ready as some of the same problems we currently face continue. Cost is a factor with all of these. Changing and managing your content for calorie labeling must be addressed as well as collecting and distributing new taxes on sugar.

Another issue that has worsened in 2015 is random health and fire inspections that take place on a daily basis around the country. Small infractions are found and citations are handed out. Municipalities have decided this is an easy way to collect revenue that is completely legal and seemingly uncontrolled. There are efforts under way to force restrictions on when, where and how municipalities can inflict inspections and citations. But this is a long battle that will most likely continue to be a challenge in 2016.

The bottom line on this topic is that our legal issues and woes will increase, not decrease, for the foreseeable future. The end results are debatable, but the government seems to have landed squarely on the side of more intervention, not less when it comes to food and beverage consumption. The best thing you can do is prepare as much as possible, consider all possibilities, budget for changes and contingencies, and get involved and contribute to the process.

Send your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.