Freshii food chain a holdout in posting calories on menu boards

'Count nutrients, not calories,' says the chain, but Ontario law requires posting the numbers

Freshii Subway 20170321

Freshii has yet to comply with a new Ontario law requiring restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie counts on all menus. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)



A popular restaurant chain that markets itself as a healthy alternative to fast food does not post calories on its menu boards, flouting Ontario law.

Be it pizza, cake or quinoa salad, food service chains with more than 20 locations in Ontario must post the number of calories in the items they're selling.

In Toronto, that's approximately 3,000 restaurants and fast food joints. Local health inspection teams have just begun making their way through that list, and they've found a holdout.

"We are seeing compliance almost everywhere we go. Almost, except one chain that we are having a challenge with, that the province is aware of," says Sylvanus Thompson, associate director of Toronto public health.

Thompson wouldn't name the chain, but says it was outed by public complaints.

"The public has a right to know what they are consuming and that is the reason that act was introduced in the first place. I would say it's unfair to the public," he says.

People can see who's posting calories on menu boards and who isn't. Clearly, Freshii is not. With 36 locations in Toronto alone, Freshii is breaking provincial law and risking substantial fines.

The question, is why?

Not down for the count

Freshii did not respond to multiple requests by CBC News for an interview.  

The chain markets itself as "healthy" fast food, offering a range of soups, salads, wraps and bowls. Nutritional information for its food products, including calories, is posted on the company's website. It also states Freshii's motto: "Count Nutrients, Not Calories."  

Freshii Subway 20170321

A Toronto public health official says people have the right to know what they are consuming, which is why the Healthy Menu Choices Act was introduced. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

The main ingredients in the chain's Oaxaca bowl are kale, brown rice, black beans and avocado. Total calories: 640.  

"That's a lot of calories for some people when they think they're getting a salad bowl," says Rosie Schwartz, registered dietitian and author in Toronto.

On average, adults need 2,000 calories a day. When it comes to weight gain, Schwartz says, portion sizes are a big problem at fast-food chains because you can get too much of a good thing.

Obesity studies have shown that people tend to perceive "healthy" foods as being less filling. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that when we eat such foods we tend to think we're less full and end up overeating. 

"When you know how many calories there are, you might decide to share it with somebody or save some for later," Schwartz says. "That's what the legislation is for, to make you aware of how much you're eating so you can make better choices."

Schwartz says there's no good excuse for leaving calories off menu boards. 

'Healing' calories

Freshii's website states, "Not all calories are created equal. Some calories are healing, some are harming."

Marketing aside, yes, some high-calorie foods are also high in nutrients. Quinoa, chickpeas and avocados are good examples. But no one food chain has a monopoly on whole grains, fruits or vegetables.  

'That's what the legislation is for, to make you aware of how much you're eating so you can make better choices.' - Rosie Schwartz, dietitian and author

Aroma Espresso Bar is another expanding eatery promoting its use of fresh food and wholesome ingredients.  

"We had to change our menus, we had to change our nutritional information, we had to change our catering menus, take-out menus, printed out menus, legal menus," says Daniel Davidzon, marketing and communications manager for Aroma Espresso Bar in Toronto. "But certainly I think it's for the better." 

He says it can be a challenge to help people understand that higher-calorie items on their menus can also be nutritional. Aroma's sales haven't changed dramatically since the chain started posting its calories.

Davidzon doesn't think it's fair that Freshii isn't playing by the same rules.

"I don't understand why a brand that touts its freshness and touts the nutritional value of its food wouldn't want to make information more readily available to its customers," Davidzon says.

Penalties for not posting calories

There are stiff fines for not complying with Ontario's menu labelling legislation:

  • Individuals can be fined up to $1,000 a day for breaking the law.
  • Corporations can be fined up to $10,000 a day for non-compliance.

One of Freshii's 5 Guiding Principles listed on its website states: "Numbers rule. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

Schwartz agrees, and hopes Freshii will extend the same philosophy to informing its customers when they're standing in line.

Freshii defies Ontario calorie label law 2:01

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