Menu Boards: Would You Like A Side Of FUD With That?


Pretty much anyone I talk to, who would know, says the digital menu board market is booming. Fast food and fast casual restaurant operators “get” the business proposition that the collective platform pay for itself in efficiency and flexibility and sales promotion lifts.

Companies like McDonald’s, Burger King and Tim Horton’s haven’t invested millions in digital boards because they look prettier. The numbers worked.

So it’s a mystery why software companies scrapping it out for contracts in the U.S. continue to cite FDA nutrition requirements as a big reason why restaurant chains and their franchisees need to go digital.

The whole government-will-require-operators to show nutritional details thing is NOT looming. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) produced a guideline in 2010, but there was no enforcement mechanism. Compliance was voluntary.

Then the draft guidance was withdrawn, more than two years ago, and any new stipulations are indefinitely delayed.

From an Associated Press report just a few weeks ago:

Writing a new menu labeling law “has gotten extremely thorny,” says the head of the Food and Drug Administration, as the agency tries to figure out who should be covered by it.

The 2010 health care law charged the FDA with requiring chain restaurants and other establishments that serve food to put calorie counts on menus and in vending machines. The agency issued a proposed rule in 2011, but the final rules have since been delayed as some of those non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard to be exempt.

While the restaurant industry has signed on to the idea and helped to write the new regulations, supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers that sell prepared food say they want no part of it.

“There are very, very strong opinions and powerful voices both on the consumer and public health side and on the industry side, and we have worked very hard to sort of figure out what really makes sense and also what is implementable,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Hamburg said menu labeling has turned out to be one of the FDA’s most challenging issues, and while requiring calorie counts in some establishments might make sense on paper, “in practice it really would be very hard.” She did not say what specific types of establishments she was referring to.

But a scan around websites and “thought leadership” pieces suggests there are still lotsa people in the digital signage industry serving up a nice plate of FUD to try to get deals over the line.

It’s inaccurate and not needed to win a deal. Make the case that your solution can run reliably and deliver a return. The menu label thing is an attempt to  scare people who are going to know better than you what regulatory rules are really in place or coming. What makes more sense is the simple assurance that digital makes adjustments to menu labelling – however and whenever that plays out – dead simple.

Of course, then there’s the separate question of whether they even work.

6 thoughts on “Menu Boards: Would You Like A Side Of FUD With That?”

  1. Dave:

    Nice post, and accurate. Truth is, anyone who is pushing FDA nutrition requirements as a driver actually doesn’t get it, and the buyers figure that out pretty quickly. DMBs are hot because they provide many benefits over static menu boards. I’d list them here, but I’d prefer for anyone unfamiliar with the market to continue worrying about nutrition data. At best it is icing on the cake.

    FUD sales pitches are not a new concept, and it is not limited to the DMB marketplace. Buyers need to fear the capability and viability of their potential vendors far more than regulatory policies. That was actually the premise of the inventors of FUD sales techniques, those guys who used to sell mainframes. It can work, and has sold lots of hardware and consulting projects for decades, but only when the customer can relate to the premise for fear.

  2. Great post. For the clients I have spoken with, the only time nutritional guidelines come up is in their desire to show it, not any requirement.

    In my experience, the guidelines are a value add, but not a main selling point.

  3. FUD or not there is an overwhelmeing amount of evidence that proves the general public does indeed for the most part want to know what what they are paying to eat.

    The more our science proves the reasoning the more numbers of astute consumers will grow.

    I suspect we will not need the federal government to compel us to do the right thing.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    While there will be some Nanny State arguments about the need for label, I think the more intriguing question is What actually works in terms of nutritional information?

    My strong suspicion is calorie counts are just abstract numbers for a lot of people – notably those who most need the information.

    I’ve seen some research and stories suggesting a re-think to icons or other messages that get across the point. I’ve also seen arguments that if you are going to fuss calories, you need to also fuss on things like sodium counts (which are probably ridiculous in many QSR items).

  5. Indeed.. dynamic signage delivers a package of value… revenue achievement (through upsell, cross-sell, increased visit frequency, etc.) , branding, improved location ambiance, reduced costs of menu and promotion board changes, support for business partners, increased day-parting, message posting assurance and regulation compliance preparedness – indeed all benefits deliver value to the food services establishment and to patron satisfaction. Is caloric, nutritional, allergen posting going away.. from those who matter, the answer is “no”. Dynamic signage providers serve best by serving food service providers’ need for flexible messaging at points of entry, waiting, promotion, selection/order and location experience. The media moves all of the important needles (revenue, cost, branding).

  6. Lyle:

    I assume you mean “digital signage”, don’t you? That would be the compliant term for the industry we work in, or at least the one I work in, and Dave as well, based on his own description of his blog. We don’t help ourselves by coining new terms to replace perfectly acceptable existing terms, in my opinion.

Comments are closed.