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Stores see no convenience in FDA demand

Standardized labeling likely to raise costs at little benefit

America’s 149,000 convenience stores offer a quick, clean and friendly space for Americans to grab life’s essentials without breaking stride in their daily routine. One industry estimate finds that the average trip, from the time a customer leaves their car until the time they return with a purchase, takes 3 minutes and 33 seconds.

So how much time would you be willing to spend deciphering nutrition information if it were wallpapered across the store? And how much more money would you be willing to pay to cover those costs?

Next month, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue regulations from the 2010 health care reform law. Section 4205 of that legislation stipulates that restaurants and “similar retail food establishments” with 20 or more chain locations will have to create calorie labels for all food products made on site.

Ricker’s currently has 51 stores across Indiana, putting us well within that range. But, while Ricker’s does sell packaged foods as well as freshly prepared foods, we are not a restaurant and should not be together with other businesses in this overly broad law.

The proposed rule is an answer to the patchwork of different state laws regarding menu labeling. The result will regulate pizzerias, grocery stores and convenience stores with essentially no regard to how each business differs.

The result is that all food prepared on site will require nutritional testing, employees will need more training, and business owners will need to foot the bill for printing and updating signage. That’s a lot of money and man-hours for a family business like ours and will result in higher prices for families like yours.

My wife and I built Ricker’s from the ground up. I still remember driving the tanker truck to make sure fuel arrived on time while Nancy managed finances out of our home. From there, our business grew along Interstate 69 and we began offering more goods and services to help our patrons meet the demands of their busy lives. However, had we been forced to devote our attention to complying with burdensome FDA rules, who knows where we would have found the time and resources to continue growing our business?

A recent Gallup poll showed that fewer than half of all Americans look at nutrition information when it is provided in restaurants. In light of this, what are the chances anybody will take the time out of their 3 minute and 33 second visits to our stores to analyze similar information? Is it worth the higher prices that will result?

Ricker’s is proud to be made in Indiana, and we want to continue to provide jobs as well as convenience and quality service for all Hoosiers. While I’m eager to help drive the discussion on public health and nutrition forward, this top-down, paternalistic style of governance is not good for our business or our customers.

Jay Ricker owns a chain of convenience stores, mostly located along Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.