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Too much information may cramp craft brew’s growth

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Chain operators are relieved the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pushed back the deadline for full compliance with new nutritional menu labeling standards to late 2016. In particular, those that sell a lot of craft beer can really use the extra time. When the new rules kick in, chains will have to post calorie counts and make 10 additional pieces of nutritional information available for every beer they serve—data craft breweries may not be able to supply.

The new rules come at a time of explosive growth for the craft brewing segment. In 2014, craft brew had an 11 percent share of the beer market in the U.S. Sales were up 17.6 percent (versus just 0.5 percent for the beer category overall) and craft brew dollar sales rose 22 percent to $19.6 billion.

Let’s hope these trends continue. Alcoholic beverage nutritional labeling wasn’t required by the original version of Affordable Care Act of 2010 but became part of the package by the time the final rules emerged in November 2014. The particulars covering beer are still being hammered out, but the information that’s come out so far suggests that full implementation could make life difficult for craft brewers and restaurant operators alike.

Here’s how Paul Gatza, director of Brewers Association, a craft brewing trade organization based in Boulder, CO, assessed the situation in mid-May, 2015:

“FDA indicates that the guidance will lean toward requiring chain restaurants of 20 or more units or similar retail food establishments to treat beer in the following manner:

• Restaurant menus and menu boards will include calorie listings for each brand of beer.

• FDA will require chain restaurants to have nutrient figures for each beer for total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugar and protein.

• Restaurants may use a combination of methods to develop the information, including the USDA Nutrient Database, manufacturer-supplied data (that’s where brewers come in), calculations with defensible ideas behind the calculations, laboratory analysis and recipes.

• Draught beer will be included if listed on a menu. Nutrient values for draught beer will not be required if the beer is not on a menu.

• Each size pour will require its own listing of all data.

• The values for “regular beer” in the USDA Nutrient Database won’t be considered accurate for craft beer and other methods of ascertaining this information will be required.”

Gatza’s concern is whether the smaller brewers in his group’s membership will pay to do the nutritional analysis that will be required for their beer to be sold by chains having 20 units or more. “While the onus rests with the restaurant chains,” he writes, “it is easy to foresee that companies may drop brands that do not have this information readily available.”

The issue for larger chain restaurant operators may turn out to be one of information overload. It will be interesting to see how a beer-centric brand like the Yard House in Las Vegas, which offers 160 different beers on tap, deals with all the information it will be asked to display for customers. It could require a beer menu redesign of epic proportions.

Another question: will the makers of small-yet-coveted microbrews and nanobrews be willing and/or able to supply all the data a restaurant of Yard House’s size and scope will need just to meet the basic requirements of the proposed new rule? Or will they avoid the hassle and not attempt to sell to these customers.

Not all beers will be covered by these rules for chains. Seasonal beers sold for fewer than 60 consecutive days—and no more than 90 days total in a year–are exempt.

There’s plenty of lobbying going on about the final, final rules for menu labeling. Let’s hope the requirements for beer are toned down or eliminated. In our anecdotal experience, calorie watching is not the primary focus for craft beer drinkers, if they pay any attention to it at all. On the “tastes great-less filling” spectrum, they’re all about the “tastes great,” period.

Contact Bob Krummert at [email protected]

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