New FDA Menu Labeling Rules Could Cost Brewers Thousands

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally issued guidance on menu labeling requirements for retail chain operations and small breweries are likely to take a financial hit.

The new menu labeling rules require restaurants and foodservice establishments with more than 20 locations to disclose the caloric value and supplementary health criteria of beer, as well as other food and drinks, sold on-premise and will take effect on Dec. 1, 2016.

Last year, the FDA told Brewbound the new rules would not impact craft brewers, but smaller suppliers hoping to stay on tap at popular chain accounts like Yard House or Buffalo Wild Wings will likely be responsible for supplying an accurate nutritional analysis for their products.

Earlier this month, a spokesperson with the Beer Institute told Brewbound that nutritional testing could cost as much as $1,000 per item.

White Labs Inc., a San Diego-based fermentation sciences lab offers a nutritional analysis package — including caloric, fat, protein and carbohydrate information, among other facts — for $635. That package, which White Labs believes is cheaper than those offered by other consumer product testing labs, was put together within the last six months in response to the FDA’s forthcoming menu labeling requirements, said Kara Taylor, the company’s analytical lab manager.

“We have done a ton of nutritional testing in the last six months,” she said. “It is a huge cost for every brand and some brewers could end up reducing the amount of brands that make it to bigger restaurants as a result.”

In a guidance document, released on Sept. 11, additional details on how retailers can best implement the new federal menu labeling rules were explained by the FDA.

In a note to members, Beer Institute CEO Jim McGreevy outlined the changes.

“The guidance document aligned with much of the Beer Institute’s position on menu labeling,” he wrote. “The Beer Institute will continue to work with the FDA on the implementation on menu labeling.”

Under the guidance, a single calorie reference may be used for a category or group of beverage alcohol products if the products all have the same calorie count.

In other words, if a retailer is selling several beers all containing the exact same amount of calories (at the same serving size), the operator is permitted to group these items together with a single caloric value listed next to the named brands.

Retailers will also be allowed to list caloric ranges (such as 70-120 calories), if the menu uses generic terms like “beer,” or “light beer.” Operators will, however, be required to indicate the specific caloric value for every beer, if those items are listed by brand name, style or category.

Additional nutrition information must also be available upon request from the consumer including calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars and protein.

In his note, McGreevy also said “restaurants and other retail establishments may use a variety of sources to calculate calories and determine nutrient disclosures, or what is commonly referenced as a reasonable basis.”

Chain operators will be allowed to source caloric information from online databases, lab analysis and recipes. A retailer may pull information for an item if it matches the description provided in the USDA database, which McGreevy said was incomplete and “limited in what is provided for beer.”

The Beer Institute is in discussions with the USDA to expand the database, McGreevy wrote.

The FDA will also be accepting written comments on the guidance document until November 2, 2015.

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