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Helping Customers Count Those Calories

The Food and Drug Administration will soon require U.S. chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus. It’s estimated approximately 280,000 establishments will be affected by this law as early as next year. Businesses not focused on selling food, such as movie theaters and bowling alleys, will be exempt from such postings.

So, what are the implications for prepared food counters in grocery stores?

Obviously, selling food is the primary business of a grocery store, and pre-packaged foods already are labeled. Some chains even recommend “healthy foods” through rating systems and in-store dietician consultation.

Consequently, would such postings be expected by grocery store shoppers — whether required by the federal government or not? And, would access to this information affect prepared food sales?

It’s possible. Customers tend to pay less attention to nutritional information if they are dining out than when they are grocery shopping, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Therefore, supermarket customers may be of the mindset to heed nutritional data posted in the deli and decline to buy calorie-laden foods.

However, it’s also been shown that consumers sometimes fear a perceived drop in favor with options touting words such as “fat free.” So, what’s a grocer to do?

Shoppers may request adding nutritious items to a grocer’s prepared food menu. Although there are those who would shun such an expansion from a shrink standpoint, no one can be sure what might appeal to shoppers until new offerings are tested. And if a supermarket plans to simply post the information next to the healthier offerings and not provide supplemental educational material or “knowledge sharing” by deli associates, it’s unlikely the healthy options will become the top seller.

The bigger question is: For what have you become known? If you have a “brand investment” in health, nutrition and consumer education, it seems appropriate — regardless of legislation — that you would adhere to a consistent policy of sharing health-related data with customers by posting calorie and other detailed nutritional information for the prepared foods in your deli, if you haven’t already been doing so.