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Nutrition display in restaurants - Need extra cheese or toppings ? No Thank you!!
"In the rule to display nutritional values at eateries, who is the winner - Industry, Regulator or the Consumer?" - Raghu Guda
Review of nutrition display rule in India by Raghu Guda
As I travel across the continents, grabbing my lunch in the familiar outlets of global Quick Service Restaurant chains, was happy to see the new displays of nutritional information on the menu. It certainly is useful for any customer to make an informed choice of the food that is being ordered and its nutritional & calorific contribution for a recommended daily intake limits for healthy living. What was remarkable was that as a consumer I felt empowered to silence my temptation to cave in to the all too luring question “Do you want extra cheese or toppings ?”
Although, this is a remarkable experience for the consumer, it took great deal of time for the regulators and industry to extend the nutritional transparency as in case of the packaged food industry. Europe was first to have embraced the new Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers on 13 December 2014. However, the obligation to provide nutrition information was applicable only from 13 December 2016. US lawmakers also through iterative consultation with industry has finally implemented Menu Labeling Final Rule: Food Labeling; Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments (published December 1, 2014) on May 7, 2018.
Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see a similar rule being notified in the India by FSSAI and felt immensely happy at the consumer empowerment by the regulator. This is definitely a great move by the regulator as part of their 360 degree view of food safety and addressing the “Eating Outside” component, however having seen the emergence of Food Safety across all the stakeholders like Regulator, State Governments, Industry, Trade bodies, Labs and Consumer groups from close quarters over the last decade, it is hard to imagine that there will be a mass adoption and enforcement of the initiative to imbibe the consumer culture of calorie conscious consumption, that too – effective immediately. There are inherent challenges in effective dissemination of the spirit behind this rule, so, with the privilege of seeing the evolving consumerism, let’s explore some learning’s in the implementation of this rule by other regulators like FDA, EFSA, which could aid in easing the pains of adoption of the great cultural shift towards health eating.
FDA Journey of the Nutrition Display at Food Outlets
The rule originally was proposed as part of the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, but due to immense pressure from the restaurant lobby group – in particular the Pizza industry, this was delayed and finally enforced only in May 2018. Besides lack of guidance documents from regulator, the industry groups in US also felt that the rule is onerous to comply and even unnecessary as most of their sales are over phone or online and most of the orders are customized to suit the customer requirements making it impossible to tabulate the calories. The rule before was also preempted by series of law suits in New York. Given all the resistance the deadline has been pushed thrice before the hammer finally fell in May 2018 by FDAto enforce the rule as part ofFood Safety Modernization Act.
How can India ease its way and embrace this rule?
Given the constraints of extended negotiations across the stakeholder groups, complexities of the ecosystem, and maybe anticipating resistance, the Indian regulator is yet to propose any deterrence in case of non-compliance. This is particularly a good approach of trying to ease in the adoption before governance and is in line with the regulatory shift from Inspector Raj. The success of the rule (like any other regulatory control) will be in effectively disseminating the information and define the contours to minimize the burden of compliance for businesses and maximize the benefit to consumers. Some key takeaways from the rest of the world we can factor are:
1.Collaboration: An inclusive approach of regulator to work collaboratively with the businesses and stakeholders like labs to understand the impediments for adoption and act as a facilitator for consumer interests. The proven strategy of nominate and train the incumbents on the key areas of compliance and also educate them on the upsides of successful implementation in the larger players (central Licensees) will snowball the adoption by the bulk of the players across the nation
2.Communication: In demonstrating its commitment to help the industry, the regulator (FSSAI along with States) must release succinct guidelines on the applicability, frequently asked questions (FAQs,)manner of declaration and graphical depiction on menus and display boards. Such guidance documents would clear the ambiguity and also ascertain the transparency in the regulatory approach. Also, such clear instructions will be pivotal in justifying/alleviating the cost of implementation to the business. As a regulatory body with enforcement by State departments, its critical for FSSAI to ensure the field staff do not take a hardline approach but facilitate a healthy adoption for the good of all stakeholders. It’s the Spirit that counts not the letter
3.Feedback: Governance of any rule will be effective when there is a responsive feedback mechanism. A functioning helpline to address the concerns or clarification raised by the stakeholders will help in rapid adoption of the rule and reinforcing the behavior that changes into a culture that everyone embraces for self-regulated ubiquity. The Digital transformation initiatives of the regulator to have IT enabled platforms for collaboration, engagement of social media like twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and mobile applications like FSSAI App will all bolster the engagement of stakeholders, dissemination of information consistently across the country and to create the momentum for cultural shift in India’s Healthy Eating and fight against obesity and mal-nutrition.
It’s very heartening to see a recent statement released by National Restaurant Association (in USA) that thousands of restaurants are already complying with the labeling requirement with the above guidance and additionally consumers have been asking for more transparency on the nutritional content of the food they order from the menus.
To conclude, although it is unfair to compare India and it’s the budding food regulatory system with the likes of EU and US, it is laudable that FSSAI has made the bold move to bring in this rule in spite of its inherent challenges. Further, alongside the initiatives like right to eat and traffic light labeling on pre-packed foods, this calorie display would certainly bolster the consumer culture of safe & healthy food. To have a consistent access to nutritional information and to control the epidemic high numbers of chronic diseases in child and adult population in India, let’s brace to make this drastic cultural change as no matter what role we play as stakeholders in food industry, the change that starts with us will benefit all, be it the regulator, industry, labs or most importantly “us”, as we all are ultimately consumers.
About the Author: Mr. Raghu Guda is a familiar personality in the Indian food & beverage fraternity. His enormous contribution* to food regulator in its infant stage is often being lauded by its leadership. Being a thought leader, consultant and IT architect he had successfully navigated leading FMCG brands in complying with rules & regulations. Mr. Guda is currently residing in USA and is helping business leaders in leading digital transformation. He is open to any productive discussions and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Supported the regulator in rolling out the FSS Act, conceptualized the IT system FLRS, FICS and FPAS
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