Potentially big developments for the franchised restaurant
sector as political parties are lining up to propose new laws
relating to healthy eating.
Last month, the Ontario Minister of Health sponsored a bill
entitled Making Healthier Choices Act, 2014 which, if
passed, would require restaurant chains in Ontario with 20 or more
locations to display the caloric content of their menu items.
The bill specifically refers to franchisors so that there is no
ambiguity regarding the application of the bill to individual
franchised units. The bill requires anybody who operates a
business that is subject to the proposed law to display the number
of calories of every food or drink item on each menu or place where
a list of those items is displayed.
This requirement would also apply to every food or drink item,
whether or not they are sold from the actual restaurant premises,
and separate display requirements also apply to combo meals.
The bill would also reserve inspection rights for the Ministry, and
offences would carry penalties of up to $1,000 per day for
individual offenders, and up to $10,000 per day for corporate
In addition, the Ontario NDP proposed a bill in late 2013 which
would similarly require the posting of caloric counts and notices
of high sodium on all menu items, but which would apply to chains
of five units or more with a gross annual revenue of over $5
First, let me say that I applaud any effort that aims to help
our "growing" population make healthier eating choices
(and I'm not just saying that because my wife is a
dietitian!). At this point, it is trite to repeat the dangers
associated with the rising obesity rate in Canada, so whatever can
be done to control that issue, the better. And I believe I
can speak on behalf of at least a few large foodservice operators
who are looking forward to these legislative changes – some
brands have worse reputations than others for the quality and
fattiness of their food items, and I know they are eager to notify
the public that their menu (while perhaps not exactly nutritious)
is not as bad as we have been led to believe.
But I do also reserve a little bit of skepticism regarding the
actual impact that laws of this nature may be able to
achieve. For anyone interested in the topic of restaurants
being mandated to display health information, it would not take
long to discover that there are as many studies supporting the
position that notices like these can sway customers' dietary
choices as there are studies which reveal there is no effect at
I am no expert in that department, but I can predict a scenario
where the compliance costs to the restaurant industry will far
outweigh the number of people who change their eating habits as a
result. Perhaps I am assuming too much, but I tend to believe
that most of us who eat at certain restaurants (be they fast-food,
casual or full-service) know when we sit down that we are likely
consuming more bad stuff than our doctors would recommend.
Few, if any, of us would order French fries with a belief that they
might be healthy for us. It is hard to imagine a reality
where the posting of the caloric count of that menu item might
change my mind to order it.
I also echo the position of the Canadian Restaurant and
Foodservices Association, which supports initiatives promoting
healthy eating choices but which believe this objective may be
better realized and with less burdensome compliance costs to the
industry if Ontario followed the lead of B.C. and Alberta's
"Informed Dining" program. Under that program,
participating restaurants are required to display nutritional
information in a variety of places (including online), without
having to incur the cost of modifying their menu boards. Of
course, the operative word there is "participating", as
the Informed Dining program is entirely voluntary.
Attempts to regulate the publicity of nutritional information is
not news, as the United States has been circling these requirements
at a federal and state level for some time.
I, for one, am eager to see not whether a healthy eating choice
law gets passed in Ontario (as it seems likely it will), but rather
which law will get passed.
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