November 16, 2013

Maine Voices: Menu mandate will place costly burden on small-business owners

The Maine delegation should support a bill that will ease the nutrition labeling requirement.

By Mike Mullen

Having risen from a delivery driver to a successful Domino’s Pizza franchisee, I take pride in the fact that I am part of a great American industry. We keep our economy strong by employing more than a million Americans, giving them opportunities to move up and open their own pizza businesses.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Mullen of Portland is a Domino’s Pizza franchisee who runs stores in Biddeford and Sanford.

Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial spirit of businesses like mine is being threatened by the prospect of burdensome and unnecessary red tape from Washington, D.C. This threatens to deprive other Americans of the same opportunities for success that I have been fortunate to experience.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act included a provision that requires food establishments with 20 or more locations to list the calorie counts of all food items sold on in-store menu boards.

Even though I run my Domino’s Pizza franchise as my own small business, my store will fall under this category. So will grocery stores, convenience stores and many other food-serving establishments that may have a big chain name but are run by small-business people like me.

At first glance, you are probably asking yourself, “Who could possibly be opposed to such a provision?” After all, we should promote healthy living and ensure all our customers know what they are eating.

To be clear, I am not against menu labeling or helping my customers make healthier choices in any way. In fact, my company already does this – voluntarily. My customers have access to the easy-to-use, online Domino’s Cal-O-Meter that allows them to build their own pizza and see the calories and other nutritional information associated with their choices in terms of toppings and everything else.

Unfortunately, in the process of translating the provision into regulatory guidelines, the Food and Drug Administration developed poorly designed rules that will be both ineffective and highly costly.

Store owners such as myself will be forced to spend thousands of dollars displaying physical menu boards and attempting to list the calorie counts of the 34 million combinations of pizza Domino’s offers.

Furthermore, as a primarily delivery restaurant, more than 90 percent of my customers won’t even see these in-store menu boards, since they place their orders via phone or our website.

On top of the expenses required to erect a menu board that virtually no one will see, the regulation will require a large number of man-hours to ensure compliance. In fact, the federal Office of Management and Budget ranked the proposed menu-labeling requirement as the third most burdensome and time-consuming regulation enacted during fiscal year 2010.

For a small-business owner like me, this means spending nearly $5,000 a year, per store, to provide and update these menu-labeling boards. For a business that runs on very slim profit margins, this would have a crippling effect. Additionally, we could be exposed to frivolous lawsuits if the calorie count of an item is incorrect as a result of an employee’s accidentally putting too much sauce or cheese on a pizza.

Fortunately, Congress is already considering a bill to ease the burden of menu labeling for small-business owners like myself. What’s more, even while Washington remains mired in partisan gridlock, this bill has found wide support on both sides of the aisle for its real-world approach to nutrition.

The bipartisan Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act has been introduced to rein in the bureaucrats at the FDA and give our industry flexibility for how best to deliver nutritional information to our customers.

I would like to thank U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, for being a co-sponsor of this legislation. I hope that the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation – U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King – will soon follow suit.

With a little luck, one of our country’s favorite meals will remain affordable, consumers will receive better information and American businesses like mine will be able to keep the doors open for generations to come.

— Special to the Press Herald

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