Calorie Counts On NYC Menu Boards? Not So Simple

Last week, New York City became the first municipality to officially ban trans fats; the ban, implemented by the city's Board of Health, will take effect next year.

While quick-service chains are on board to comply with the trans fats ban (Wendy's, for one, has already eliminated trans fats from most menu items), the ban has another aspect that's more difficult for them to swallow. It requires quick-service restaurants to post calorie counts for foods either on menu boards or close to the cash register. The calorie posting will take effect July 1, 2007, and will apply to about 10% of the city's restaurants, according to the Board of Health.

McDonald's, which has about 300 restaurants in the New York City area, already provides nutritional information, including calorie counts, via a toll-free number, on tray liners, in brochures and on some packaging. "The way our customers are requesting (nutritional information) is how we're providing it," said a spokesman for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's. "They're telling us they don't want this information on menu boards."

That said, "we have committed to the New York Department of Health that we will work with them and the industry to provide (nutrition) information in the best ways," the spokesman added.

Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's also provides nutrition information on posters in restaurants. "We are hopeful that that will suffice," said a spokesman for the chain, which has 6,300 locations in the United States and Canada.

A spokesman for Miami-based Burger King, which offers some of fast-foods' most calorie-laden offerings, would not comment on posting calorie counts on menu boards.

Posting calorie counts on menu boards could create both marketing and operational problems, said Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., the Chicago-based restaurant research firm. "It's easy to say, hard to do," said Paul, offering as an example Subway, where customers basically create their own sandwiches. "It's physically something that can't be done."

Paul added that the mandate to post calories might prevent chains from adding ultra-caloric menu items--say, burgers topped with bacon, cheese and other high-fat offerings--to the menu mix.

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