Kfc Franchise Plans 'Important' Trans Fat 'Milestone'
(Monday, October 30, 2006) - The chicken kingpin, often mocked as a poster child of fast food's nutritional negatives, on Monday will unveil plans to switch to a new soybean oil from a partially hydrogenated oil by April and eliminate the artery-clogging trans fats in its fried chicken sold in the USA.
The change in a major chain's signature product makes this one of fast food's most important concessions to the growing consumer demand for better-for-you eating. The chain, with 5,500 units in the USA, plans ultimately to make the same changes in its 8,600 locations outside the USA.
"This is an important milestone," says Gregg Dedrick, KFC's (YUM) president. "It has been a major focus for us."
Monday's news comes the same day the New York City Board of Health is to host a public hearing to consider a citywide ban on the sale of restaurant food made with trans fats. It also comes four months after the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued KFC, accusing it of failing to tell consumers about its trans fats.
Executive Director Michael Jacobson says his group is withdrawing its lawsuit. But he called the move "an important step in the right direction. It will give KFC a competitive edge." Next, he says, KFC needs to reduce its "enormous" sodium levels.
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said, in a statement, "KFC is making significant changes to help Americans make healthier choices. I encourage other companies to follow their lead."
In recent months, as the trans fat issue has heated up, some big names have responded. Wendy's removed trans fat from its french fries earlier this year. Two weeks ago, Walt Disney said it will eliminate trans fats from food sold at its parks. Food giants including Kraft, ConAgra and Frito-Lay also have cut way back on trans fat use.
The big question remains: When will McDonald's change its oil?
"McDonald's is committed to significantly reducing (trans fat) in our cooking oil," says Catherine Adams, vice president of nutrition. "We have been researching and testing alternatives and are encouraged."
At KFC, there was no question the move had to be made: One in 25 customers said they were coming less often because of trans fat concerns. But two key issues kept the company from switching oils sooner: taste and supply, Dedrick says
KFC tested the oil in restaurants in several cities — including New York, Chicago and Louisville. Most consumers detected no change. Monsanto, maker of the special "low linolenic" soybean oil, assured KFC of adequate supply.
KFC isn't rid of all trans fats. It's still got them in biscuits and desserts, and its pot pie has 14 grams. KFC is working to nix those trans fats by April, too, Dedrick says.
What would the Colonel think?
"He'd be excited that we preserved the great taste," Dedrick says. "He might even be shocked."
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