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Freshii calls Ontario menu regulation requiring display of calorie counts ‘overly simplistic’

A man walks by a Freshii restaurant in Toronto on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
A man walks by a Freshii restaurant in Toronto on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

TORONTO – A regulation requiring restaurants in Ontario to display calorie counts on menus is “overly simplistic,” Freshii said Tuesday after inspectors were dispatched to ensure the company was complying.

The Toronto-based chain voiced opposition to the province’s Healthy Menus Choices Act, which has been in effect since Jan. 1, but said it will comply upon threat of fines.

“We believe that displaying only calories on a menu is misleading for our guests,” Freshii said in a statement.

Founded in Toronto in 2005, Freshii promotes itself as an alternative to its greasier fast-food competitors, selling salads, wraps and smoothies to appeal to a more health-conscious customer. Its motto is “Count nutrients, not calories.”

On its website, the company makes a point of discouraging customers from focusing on the number of calories they consume, saying that can prevent them from considering nutrient-rich food that may also be high in calories.

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The Health Ministry said Tuesday it would not budge from its stance, saying eating too many calories is a key contributor to weight gain and menu labelling can influence consumer behaviour.

READ MORE: Ontario caved to food industry pressure on mandating calorie counts on menus: critics

The ministry said it will continue to seek compliance with the rules after learning from inspectors that multiple Freshii locations appear to be contravening the act, which applies to food service providers with 20 or more locations. Freshii has about 50 restaurants in the province, according to its website.

The ministry directed local public health units to inspect Freshii restaurants and consider enforcement action against any found to be contravening the act, said spokesman David Jensen. Individual fines for a first offence are a maximum of $500 daily, while corporate fines for a first offence are a maximum of $5,000 per day.

Jensen said the ministry sent a letter to Freshii’s corporate office May 2 to advise them of their duty to follow the regulation, but didn’t receive a response.

READ MORE: Chain restaurants in Ontario will have to post calorie info by 2017

If the government insists on issuing fines, Freshii will “take the appropriate steps to meet the minimum compliance as required by the rules,” Freshii founder and CEO Matthew Corrin said in the company’s statement.

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Freshii, which began trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange in January, is planning an expansion that would see it add between 150 and 160 outlets around the world this year. Its shares were down 3.2 per cent or 43 cents to $13.00 in late afternoon trading.

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