Menu Labeling: Building a Strategy for Implementation

September 8, 2014


Included as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, menu labeling regulations are on track to be finalized no later than the end of this year. We believe there are two ways to think about implementing menu labeling:

  • A painful and expensive exercise
  • A great opportunity to develop a business-driving nutrition communications strategy that will guide implementation of these regulations as well as address other consumer needs

We believe wholeheartedly in the second approach. A study earlier this year from the National Restaurant Association noted that 71 percent of consumers are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they did just two years ago. Understanding key tenets of the law now will enable your concept to successfully implement these regulations in your brand voice and through your operation in a way that will drive both traffic AND sales.

We recently conducted a webinar on menu labeling (see below). Our partners from Polsinelli shared an overview on the regulations, and we shared our approach to a brand-centric implementation. As we wait for the regulations to be finalized, there are several steps to take to be ready when the final guidelines are issued.

  • Develop a nutrition strategy: We conducted a study in connection with Technomic and heard from front-line restaurant operators that the top 10 nutrition questions guests ask them ARE NOT answered by these regulations. Understanding what your guests need from you and then connecting that to your business goals will deliver a strategy that will not only guide you through this exercise, but also allow you to address many other nutrition opportunities.
  • Know the regulations: While there will likely be changes, having a working knowledge of what has been proposed will help you understand what the task is likely to be.
  • Calculate your nutritionals: There is no debate that both calories and nine other supporting nutritionals will need to be shared with consumers. Finalize plate presentations, align product and recipe specifications and determine nutritional values now to be a step ahead.
  • Gather your team: Nearly every member of your cross-functional team will play a role in implementing these regulations. This is not a project just for the lawyer and the nutritionist. A successful launch will involve developing great-tasting, healthier menu items, training front- and back-of-house team members, a heightened focus on operations and a 360-degree approach to communications.
  • Learn from impacted markets: Several cities and states have had calories printed on menus for a few years. The insights from these markets can help you understand what watch-outs and opportunities exist for your concept. We highlight many of these studies in our webinar.
  • Review your media protocol: Nutrition has been, is and will continue to be a hot topic for media. In markets where labeling is already in place, reporters often cover menu labeling (and issues with reported nutritional values) during television rating sweeps. In many cases, both the analysis and the restaurant’s reaction are often negative.

Developing a nutrition communications strategy that integrates your consumer, your operation and your business targets will prepare you well not just for these regulations, but help drive your business forward. What’s “hot” in the nutrition space will continue to change — proving the best defense is a good offense.

Are you ready to take a deep dive and start shaping your communications and marketing plans to sync up with the rollout of the new regulations? You can contact Kristie Sigler ( a senior member of our food and agriculture practice, to learn more about how FleishmanHillard can help.