Trends To Target Unhealthy Foods: What Does It Mean for Truckstops

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From menu labeling requirements to taxes on sodas, there is a push at the federal and state levels to discourage the consumption of certain types of foods. The trend is increasing the number of regulations truckstop and travel plaza operators must adhere to and could alter sales.

“The government is clearly trying to go after what it views as less desir­able food products. They’re beginning to implement policies designed to dis­courage unhealthy eating and encour­age healthy eating,” said David Fialkov, vice president of government relations for NATSO. “These are trends that should trigger alarm bells in forward thinking NATSO members.”

Menu Labeling Requirements
Chain restaurants and “similar re­tail food establishments,” including many convenience stores operated by truckstops and travel plazas, must comply with new menu labeling re­quirements beginning Dec. 1.

The menu labeling rule applies to any retail establishment with 20 or more locations, including franchises, operating under the same name, of­fering for sale substantially the same menu items, that sell food that is in­tended for consumption soon after be­ing purchased. This includes food sold at a restaurant as well as hot and pre­pared food sold at convenience stores.

“They’re requiring locations to in­clude calorie information next to every food item on the menu. C-stores have a hard time meeting the rules because the rules are designed for chain restau­rants,” Fialkov said.

The rule applies to businesses that are part of a chain of 20 or more lo­cations regardless of who owns the locations. The owner of a single fran­chise business is subject to the rule if that franchise has 20 or more locations that are doing business under the same franchise name.

To help NATSO members prepare for the upcoming compliance date, NATSO has created a comprehen­sive guide that offers additional de­tails on how the rule applies to travel plazas. The full document is avail­able only to NATSO members at http://ift.tt/2bWSBhY.

Although locations must comply, Bill Vollenweider, owner of the Detroi­ter Travel Center, said overall, menu labeling does little to change custom­ers’ eating habits. “It is a pain and an expense and people ignore it,” he said. “They order what they want to order.”

(NATSO has prepared a Menu Labeling Summary And Compliance Guide For Truckstops and Travel Plazas for its membership, which is available here.)

Snap Benefit Changes
Many of the convenience stores within truckstop and travel plazas redeem Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but new regulations surrounding SNAP benefits may make it harder for NATSO members to continue supporting the program.

“The Department of Agriculture has proposed rules that would require you to stock a lot more healthy food items in your store,” Fialkov said.

USDA’s proposed regulations would narrow the definition of “staple food” so that multi-ingredient items, such as mac-and-cheese, no longer count to­ward the SNAP threshold. “Operators will need to stock more single-ingre­dient items that typically aren’t found in smaller-format retailers because the government perceives such items to be healthier,” Fialkov said.

The new legislation also requires SNAP retailers to implement point-of-sale technology systems that will not redeem SNAP benefits for the purchase of ineligible items and preclude cashiers from manually overriding the prohibi­tion. Most truckstop owners and opera­tors already have such systems in place, for those that do not will eventually need to upgrade their systems to par­ticipate in the SNAP Program.

Fialkov said the regulations could decrease the number of c-stores that accept SNAP benefits, pushing SNAP recipients to visit grocery stores instead. “There is no data to show that SNAP recipients buy any different type of a food at a grocery store than a c-store. All you’re doing is making them travel further,” Fialkov said.

To help operators comply with the changes, NATSO has prepared a com­pliance guide that contains additional information on current requirements for SNAP retailers to participate in the program, as well as an overview of the anticipated additional requirements. NATSO's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Summary And Compliance Guide For Truckstops and Travel Plazas is available here

An Attack on Soda
A number of cities are exploring a tax on sodas, and Philadelphia has be­come the first large city in the United States to implement a tax on sugary and diet drinks. The one-and-a-half cent per ounce tax will add 30 cents in additional taxes on to a 20-ounce bottle. The revenue was intended to fund children’s education and park programs in the city and is expected to generate more than $400 mil­lion over five years. Philadelphia’s mayor has said the tax on soda was chosen because a limited number of distributors make it easier to audit tax collections. However, Kane said citizens are now learning that not all of the revenue generated will go to the programs.

Kane said the public overwhelm­ingly opposes beverage taxes. In Philadelphia nearly 60 percent of residents opposed the taxes and there was a coalition of more than 30,000 individuals and 1,600 small businesses that formed to fight the taxes. Ultimately, the tax only had to pass city council, which con­sists of just 17 people,” Kane said, adding that soda taxes have failed 42 times nationwide since 2008. “We’re continuing to see people oppose these taxes, but the politi­cians see dollar signs and are going against the wishes of the people that elected them.”

Kane said ABA plans to challenge the tax in court.

“The soda tax is a small part of a larger trend. Traditionally the sin tax of choice has been an increase in the tobacco tax,” Fialkov said.

As smoking has diminished, increas­es in the tobacco tax no longer gener­ate the revenue that they did before. “They’ve looked at processed food and certain beverages as the modern equiv­alent of smoking. In a lot of ways a tax on sugar, soda or saturated fats is playing the new role tobacco taxes used to,” Fialkov said.

Other cities may follow Philadelphia’s lead. Voters in Oakland, California, will vote on adding a one-cent-per-ounce fee to sugary beverages. Billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed about $1.6 million to the measure in Philadelphia, and plans to support the soda tax efforts in Oakland as well as in San Francisco. Bloomberg may also support soda tax efforts in Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Damon Borden, a manager at Broadway Flying J, said differing taxes can incentivize customers to make purchases elsewhere. Borden told Stop Watch sin taxes in Washington have always been high. “We have been disadvantaged because border states have fewer taxes. Our customers are pretty savvy shoppers and they know to purchase highly taxed items before they come into the state,” he said. “We have always priced knowing that we are not the destination location to purchase, but we instead get the last minute shoppers.”

The American Beverage As­sociation said discriminatory taxes that target one ingredient or product aren’t the solution to improve public health. ABA also said discriminatory taxes send the wrong message to consumers. “The government shouldn’t be focused on demonizing certain products. We should be working together to ensure we are provid­ing consumers the information and choices they need to make the decisions that best fit their diet,” ABA said on its website.

Customers Gravitate Toward Healthier Offerings
Today’s consumers are trying to eat healthier, and sales of healthy foods are on the rise.

“People really are putting their money where their mouth is now,” said Ed Leddy, a retail, food service and truckstop expert. “Those things we tried 15 years ago that wouldn’t sell, they are selling now.”

J.T. McMahan, director of sales for Coca-Cola Refreshments, told attendees at The NATSO Show 2016 that there is an overarching need for and desire from consumers for wellness and better-for-you foods. “Everybody wants to be healthy,” he said. “One of the key things for you as retailers is it is very important to the consumer to feel like you care.” (See Four Ways to Connect with Truckstop Customers Shared at The NATSO Show for more on his session.)

A survey by the National Restaurant Association reported that more than seven in 10 adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they did two years ago.

The restaurant association said eight in 10 restaurant owners said their guests pay more attention to the nutrition content of food now than they did two years ago.

Leddy said a move to healthier offerings often necessitates changes in preparation areas.

“You can’t just add space on the floor. If you’re going to put healthier things on the floor, it means more investment in the back of the store. It may be more ovens, more refrigeration or better prep tables,” he said. 

Photo Credit: Steven Purcell/NATSO



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