Self-defeating private-sector cannibalism

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The diversity of our member businesses proves this point. Some convenience straddle the line between quick serve restaurants and more traditional convenience stores. This group’s main selling point is food prepared on-site. They offer restaurant-style seating as well digital or printed menus. For these select businesses, the FDA’s rules would be simple to comply with and would likely help consumers make healthy choices. On the other hand, some stores occupy a more purely convenience store role. Freshly made food items make up a much smaller portion of their business. Their selections can change daily depending on what is fresh and available. Some sell only a few specialty or home-made food items. For these stores, the research and printing costs would bite into the already narrow margins that franchisees subsist on.

Applying the regulations to traditional convenience stores – and grocery stores for that matter – is silly because they operate very differently from restaurants. As an association that works with businesses all along this spectrum, we know better than most just how different these models are. Whereas most national restaurants serve the same menu all over the country, and thereby benefit from economies of scale, the food available at the average convenience store varies dramatically by region and even by store. 

Moreover, compliance is likely to cost thousands of dollars per year, per store, and require significant paperwork hours to stay current. This can be absorbed if your whole business is the preparation of food – like a restaurant – but not when freshly-prepared food accounts for a small percentage of your overall sales. Unless FDA changes course, tens of thousands of convenience stores will be forced either to limit significantly the prepared foods they provide, or suffer the high costs of compliance, reducing job growth and other investment.

No one should imagine that the added costs will be borne exclusively by massive corporations easily able to absorb the expense of the new regulations. For example, many convenience stores are franchised and operate as independent small businesses. As such, they are ill equipped to implement and pay for complex regulatory requirements as they struggle to survive in a difficult economic climate.

The push by the some in the restaurant industry to include convenience and grocery stores represents nothing more than a cynical attempt to  gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The law that authorizes menu-labeling regulations never once mentions convenience or grocery stores, and a bipartisan coalition in Congress has endorsed legislation to not only halt the restaurant industry’s regulatory expansionism but also provide some needed flexibility for restaurants.

We embrace providing consumers with nutritional information, but regulations should not be used by one industry to disadvantage another The long-term result of this behavior will only contribute to a self-defeating private-sector cannibalism in which companies succeed not in the marketplace, but in Washington, D.C. We want no part of it, and neither should the restaurant industry.

Beckwith is senior vice president of The National Association of Convenience Stores.