But Carraway predicts the changes won’t have the intended effect on consumer eating habits. She cites her 10 stores in Montgomery County, which has a menu-labeling law similar to the FDA’s proposal, as a case in point.
“I don’t see pizza counts dropping, and I don’t see salads running out the door,” Carraway said.
Although research is inconclusive on whether calorie listings influence buying decisions, health advocates say two large studies focused on New York City show that they do.
In 2009, researchers at the Stanford University School of Business analyzed purchases at more than 200 Starbucks stores in the city and found that calorie postings led to a 6 percent reduction in calories per transaction. Most of the drop was tied to customer food purchases, with little effect on drink purchaes.
New York City, which adopted menu labeling in 2008, did its own study of purchases at about 170 of the city’s top fast food chains and found that one in six customers used the calorie information. Those who did bought about 100 fewer calories than customers who did not see or use it.
Margo Wootan, a director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA’s proposal offers a reasoned approach to tackling the menu labeling issue.
Under the plan, the pizza chains would only need to list calories for the items they choose to present on their menu boards — not every possible pizza combination.
There’s also good reason to list the calorie count for a food item in its entirety, instead of per serving, Wootan said. That approach enables consumers to more easily compare different types of food items — such as nachos or chicken wings on an appetizer menu — and leaves it up to the individual to determine portion size.
None of the issues the pizza makers are raising are new or unique to their business, Wootan said.
“We heard the same types of arguments from the whole restaurant industry when they were opposing menu labeling in the early days,” Wootan said. “I don’t know what’s up with the pizza industry.”