Another day, another study that finds no effect on consumer choices when mandatory calorie information is posted:
But the latest study from one fast food restaurant chain in Washington state found that the calorie counts did not make any difference in purchases that people made.
“I was surprised that we found basically absolutely nothing,” says Eric Finkelstein, a professor of health services research at Duke-National University of Singapore of his negative results. He found that even after the Taco Time food chain added the caloric information to their menus, consumers continued to chose the same items they had prior to the labeling.
One of the reasons hypothesized for the finding:
One factor confounding the impact of the calorie labeling may have been a logo that the taco restaurant chain Finkelstein studied used to highlight healthier choices. With that designation already in place, he says, the addition of the calories might not have made much difference in people’s assessment of better-for-them foods.
I hate to say I told you so, but I did sort of tell you so:
The alternative is not zero information. Chain restaurants are already responding to consumer demand for nutritional information without mandated displays. Many have been making it available on their websites or in literature within the restaurant, readily accessible for interested consumers. Some, like Subway, tout the healthiness of their menu and prominently advertise it. Others, like Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr., flaunt their excess. In between are hundreds of other restaurants that highlight their healthier offerings or entrées that comply with popular diets. There’s no compelling reason to think that the trend toward greater transparency won’t continue or that this multiplicity of approaches is somehow inferior to the single right way dictated by local government.
Given the lack of evidence that mandatory calorie labeling has any effect, the federal government should have refrained from imposing the costs of the mandate onto chains across the country.
Update: As long as we’re talking Taco Time, I should link to this thorough take down of a Taco Time owner’s claim that the chain’s tacos stand up to those of quality local taquerias and taco carts. Spoiler: Taco Time does not come out on top.