Alcohol Menu Calorie Counts: Get the Facts

Many of the specifics of the Food and Drug Administration regulations requiring the inclusion of calorie information for alcohol beverages on menus have yet to be clarified, but the December 1 deadline is prompting foodservice professionals to assess the implications for their operations.

The first step toward compliance is understanding the basics of the regulations.

  • Foodservice providers operating in 20 or more locations with standard or substantially similar menus are required to include calorie information and additional nutritional information for menued alcohol beverages. This applies to:
    • Restaurants, both freestanding and located in hotels, although single concept restaurants in hotels are not covered by the regulations
    • Grocery and convenience stores offering prepared food and beverage items
    • Movie theaters
    • Bowling alleys
    • Ice cream shops
    • Pizza parlors
    • Amusement and theme parks
  • The calorie information must be presented on all menus—printed, electronic, digital—including menu boards and online menus.
  • Exemptions include:
    • Limited-time offers running for less than 60 consecutive days
    • Test items available for less than 90 consecutive days
    • Beverages on display and not intended for self-service by patrons, such as bottles on the back bar
    • Drinks ordered by patrons but not listed on the menu, such as mixed drinks or custom cocktails
    • Beverages on tap but not listed on the menu

Step two is to develop a list of all menued adult beverages, including specific ingredients and quantities, and begin sourcing calorie and nutrition information. The FDA states operators must have a “reasonable basis” for nutrient declarations, but it is fairly open on where the information can be sourced. Examples include:

Added Degree of Difficulty

Issues arise for alcohol, however, in that most adult beverage packages do not include nutritional information, as it’s not required by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau except for light/lite beer. Suppliers can voluntarily include such information, and some are now moving in that direction.

Also, the USDA National Nutrient Database information on alcohol is general, and several adult beverage categories are not included. Foodservice operators will likely need to turn to their adult beverage supplier partners and/or conduct independent analyses to develop the necessary information.

The complexity of adult beverage menus also raises myriad questions, and the FDA is still formulating responses and clarifying the regulations. Among the key questions raised by attendees during a workshop Technomic moderated at the recent VIBE Conference in Las Vegas was whether calorie information must be presented for every brand, style and pour size of an adult beverage on the menu. The short answer is yes, although the FDA indicates operators have the option to group beverages by type and provide a range, with specific calorie ranges for the varied pour sizes, if available.

Looking for Answers

As foodservice professionals examine their current drink menus and consider development of future menus in light of the new regulations, very specific questions will likely arise. The FDA is expected to issue clarification on the regulations regarding alcohol in the next few weeks, but operators are urged to email the FDA with inquiries related to their programs at CalorieLabeling@fda.hhs.gov.

These new regulations will undoubtedly influence adult beverage programs and menus going forward. We operate in an age of transparency, however, and full disclosure is now a cost of doing business.

This post is part of a series about alcohol calorie information on foodservice menus, with posts on consumer behaviors related to calorie information and how operators can partner with suppliers to comply.

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Donna Hood Crecca

A veteran of the foodservice industry, Donna Hood Crecca leads the firm’s Convenience Store Practice and is active in its Adult Beverage Practice. She develops research-based insights and recommendations for leading and emerging supplier and operator companies to enhance their go-to-market and product development programs and strategies.

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