Oct 31, 2006 - food, media, observations    No Comments

It’s not healthy, so don’t use it … DUH!

It appears that Kentuky Fried Chicken’s latest press release has pushed the company’s visibility to new heights throughout the media, with BusinessWeek, the LA Times, and the Toronto Star (to name a few) blathering on about this earth-shattering news. I’ve even been hearing it on BBC Radio all night … and yet, I wonder whether the decision to eliminate partially hydrogenated soybean oil from their restaurants was driven by a true concern for the “American Obesity Epidemic” or a desire for massive (and, when you factor the blogosphere in, free in many cases) publicity.

When it comes right down to it, if it ain’t healthy either don’t use it or don’t use so much of it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: it won’t taste the same. That’s the primary reason/excuse the major food franchises have given for not moving faster on this whole issue (and others): the product won’t have the same taste customers are familiar with, and they’ll sell less product until customers either accept the change in flavor or they gain new customers.

That isn’t rocket surgery either: any cook worth half his salt … err … sodium substitute … knows that if you change an
ingredient in a recipe you will alter the flavor in the final product. This applies not only to the ingredients you put in the food you’re making and the things the food comes in contact with during the cooking process, like the oil you’re frying in.

While it may be a “bold move”, I suspect the move was more political than “conscientious citizenship” (there’s a move in New York to ban the use of trans fats in restaurants).  But, what does all this really mean? Good question. I’ve no clue, but here are a couple observations:

  • Fear of falling profits may have (um, I hear a duh on the wind) factored into the decision not to move faster … but the irony of the whole thing is that you can bet that the very same stock holders who demand their stock perform (and would sell if it didn’t) will probably be the first people to complain about the change in the taste of the food and stop buying the food (which would reduce sales … which would reduce profits … which would reduce stock performance … which … you see where I’m going with this).
  • KFC is just one of the properties owned by Yum!, with Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Long John Silvers being sister franchises (this is why you’re seeing “combo stores” with two of these franchises in a single location sharing a common inside counter and drive through window). Wonder if any of those brands still use trans fats … and, if so, are they planning on changing things anytime soon? Remember that trans fats are commonly used in things like dough and oils to prolong shelf life.

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