Accidental Franchises in Atypical Industries; FDA Labeling
Department of Business Oversight
Tal Grinblat, Chair of the Franchise Law Committee of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of California and Certified Specialist in Franchise and Distribution Law, organized and met with Department of Business Oversight (DBO) members to discuss new legislation proposed by the Committee. Tal chaired the meeting which was held in the DBO’s office in San Francisco.
Southern California Super Lawyers 2015
Barry Kurtz, David Gurnick and Tal Grinblat (all are State Bar Certified Specialists in Franchise & Distribution Law) have been named Southern California Super Lawyers for 2015. The designation is determined by a 12 point peer recognition and professional achievement ratings system, and via independent research. The list is published in Los Angeles Magazine, and can be found online. Click to see our 2015 Southern California Super Lawyers.
Comparing Franchise Relationships and Beer Distribution Relationships
Barry Kurtz and Bryan H. Clements had an article published in Orange County Lawyer, regarding the similar laws governing beer distribution and franchising. Click: Comparing Franchise and Beer Distribution Relationships for more information.
Steering Clear of Franchise Financial Disasters
David Gurnick was quoted by CNBC regarding the necessity of research before investing in a franchise. To read the article, click: How to Steer Clear of Franchise Financial Disasters.
Accidental Franchises in Industries Not Typically Associated With Franchising
Almost everyone recognizes the nation’s most prominent franchises: McDonald’s, Domino’s, Hilton or 7-Eleven, to name a few. And business people are becoming aware that arrangements that look like franchises, but are characterized by parties as something else, may still be franchises under U.S. laws. Examples include a successful restaurant that brings in investors to own new locations, or a plumbing or lock-and-key service that lets its best employees start their own branches. These deals may be or become accidental franchises.
The Federal Trade Commission’s definition of a franchise may be summarized as a business relationship, no matter what it is called, in which:
- One party will grant another the right to operate a business or sell goods or services, identified or associated with originator’s trademark;
- There will be significant control or assistance from the trademark owner; and
- The operator must pay money to the trademark owner.
It is easy to see how these elements could all be present in the relationships described above. When the elements are present, the franchisor must prepare an extensive “Franchise Disclosure Document” and allow a 14-day cooling-off period before entering into any agreement with a franchisee. The franchisor cannot unilaterally change or terminate or not renew franchise agreements. In 13 states, registration is required before an agreement may be entered into. Violations can mean civil and criminal penalties.
Considering the wide scope of the FTC or state law definitions, the elements can be found in relationships in unexpected fields. Who would think the Girl Scouts, an organization chartered by Congress, would be an illegal franchise? But a federal court ruled the elements were present between the Girl Scouts and one of its local councils, based largely on selling Girl Scout cookies and merchandise.
Commercial shopping centers often require tenants to join and pay money to a shopping center association for advertising. These associations promote members using the center’s distinctive brand, organize promotional events, regulate when tenants can and cannot conduct special sales, mandate operating hours, and require tenant members to participate in gift-card and loyalty programs. Possibly, the elements of a franchise are present, meaning the shopping center landlord or its tenant association may be a franchisor.
In some industries, such as software development and pharmaceuticals, independent businesses form networks and consortiums to develop products and services. These organizations require members to make payments to fund operations and create, develop or obtain products for members to use, sell, or distribute. Often the organization adopts a distinctive name which members and re-sellers may use, or be required to use. This scenario could contain all the elements of a business franchise, requiring regulatory and other franchise law compliance.
Unexpected franchises occur in other business relationships, too. For example, a snack-foods distributor or route driver who must pay material fees to the manufacturer (e.g., to purchase a vehicle or for advertising, training, manuals or meetings), follow the manufacturer’s policies and promote the brand, could be a regulated franchise. In one case, a California court found a foreign winemaker to be a franchisor because the vintner sold ancillary promotional items to its U.S. importer and assisted in customer sales calls.
Franchise laws are written in broad terms. Companies, and organizations, even nonprofits and consortiums, that develop and distribute products and services, whether through their own members or others who are recruited, should assess whether their arrangements may be franchises.
Complying with the FDA’s New Menu Labeling Requirement
On November 25, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released final rules governing menu and vending machine labeling to implement some of the Affordable Care Act’s nutrition labeling requirements.
The final rule for menu labeling is entitled the Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items in Restaurants and Similar Retail Food Establishments Rule (“Menu Rule”). Its coverage includes restaurant franchise systems.
According to the FDA’s website, the Menu Rule “applies to restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods.” Covered establishments include sit-down restaurants, drive-thrus, take-outs, delis (including grocery store delis), places with self-serve salad/food bars, bakeries, coffee shops, movie theatres, amusement parks, ice cream stores, convenience stores serving ready-to-eat foods and drinks, and certain bars serving alcohol. The FDA claims the Menu Rule will help consumers make informed choices by providing accurate, clear and consistent nutrition information when they eat out. The FDA says that at least two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese and eat one-third of their calories away from home.
The Menu Rule requires posting calorie information for standard menu items on the menu and menu boards, including electronic and online menus, so customers can understand the posted caloric information in context of their total daily diets. The postings must state that detailed, written nutrition information is available to customers on request. A covered establishment must have a reasonable basis for its nutritional declarations, keep records relating to the nutritional data used as a basis for, and methods used to determine, the nutritional information provided to customers, and make the information available to the FDA on request.
Starting December 1, 2015, franchisees, and franchisors operating company-owned locations, need to comply with the Menu Rule. Franchisees should be proactive and communicate with their franchisors and suppliers to obtain accurate nutritional data and determine what new standards their franchisors plan to implement to maintain uniformity and enable franchisees to comply with the Menu Rule’s requirements.
Restaurant franchisors are likely starting to test standard menu items and work on new menu and menu board standards to provide to franchisees. But franchisees should not wait to hear from their franchisors since franchisees will be responsible to comply with the Menu Rule in December regardless of any action taken by their franchisors.