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Yum volunteers on-menu calorie data, seeks U.S. law like Calif.’s, but tougher

Yum volunteers on-menu calorie data, seeks U.S. law like Calif.’s, but tougher

LOUISVILLE KY. Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut systems anchor the world’s largest restaurant network, has vowed to post per-serving calorie counts on the menu boards of all its U.S. outlets and push for a sweeping federal disclosure rule affecting all prepared-food sellers. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

As the first mass-market chain operator to call for a national law requiring what a growing number of municipal and state statutes are mandating, Yum already has obtained pledges of support from official representatives of its franchisees, who are expected to follow suit. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Yum’s proactive menu maneuver also received praise from two prominent health watchdogs, including one that previously sued the company over trans fats, and another who lauded the calorie initiative despite his adamant opposition to some of the Yum chains’ food contents. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

The permanent menu modifications at all of Yum’s U.S. restaurants, currently about 3,710, would be completed by the end of 2010, and franchisees, who now operate some 16,086 U.S. branches, are being encouraged to meet that same target. Included in those chain numbers are the Long John Silver’s and A&W All American Foods brands, which Yum also owns. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Louisville-based Yum’s Jan. 1, 2011, goal for completing the postings is the same final deadline required by a new California menu-labeling law signed Sept. 30 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That first-of-its-kind state mandate would be the model Yum uses in lobbying Congress to enact a comparable national statute. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

However, in Yum’s quest for a federal calorie-posting law to preempt varying state and local measures, the company will oppose one key aspect of California’s regulation: its exemption of foodservice brands that have fewer than 20 outlets in the state. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

“We think that’s patently unfair,” said Jonathan Blum, Yum’s senior vice president of public affairs. “What we’re looking for is a uniform standard for all sellers of prepared foods, including supermarkets and convenience stores.” —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Under Yum’s plan, all eateries and meal sources, from the smallest mom-and-pop cafe to the loftiest, one-of-a-kind fine-dining restaurant, would have to reveal directly on their menus or menu boards each regularly offered item’s calorie count. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

In addition to the competitive inequity inherent in California’s exemption of nonchain and small-chain operators, the state’s big-chain-only policy is unfair to consumers who deserve to see the dietary data whenever they eat out, Blum said. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

“We always listen and respond to our customers, and they’ve told us that easy access to calorie information is what they want,” he said. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

In the nearly 10 million web-site requests for nutrition information that Yum’s chains receive each year from consumers, per-item calorie counts are “the No. 1 thing they ask for,” Blum said. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Yum staked out its leadership position on calorie postings in advance of an expected announcement this month of the name and agenda of an industry coalition the company has been involved with that also would seek pre-emptive federal nutrition disclosure standards. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Blum indicated that Yum had been working with the National Restaurant Association and other industry groups to craft a national policy. However, he said he had not yet read or analyzed new NRA-backed disclosure legislation pending in the U.S. Senate, and could not comment on it. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., introduced that bill Sept. 25. It would immediately pre-empt state and local measures upon becoming law, but would not take effect itself until two and a half years later. While the NRA favors the bill as a way to avert varying menu-labeling rules, it is expected to be opposed by some health watchdogs because of the instantaneous preemptions and its allowance for nonmenu-based disclosure modes. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Yum is not the first to volunteer on-menu nutrition data, though it is the first non-niche operator to indicate that the disclosures won’t be just a short-term marketing initiative that could be scuttled by negative customer reaction. The Ruby Tuesday casual-dining chain in 2004 began trumpeting its new on-menu listings of per-serving nutrition data for all dishes, after quietly trimming standard portion sizes for several high-calorie, high-fat items. But both initiatives were abandoned within months after the company blamed a sharp downturn in sales on a backlash of customer anger over the portion cuts. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Darden Restaurants’ small, regional Seasons 52 chain touts a no-dish-over-475-calories policy in courting a more mature demographic of upscale-casual diners. But Seasons 52 has featured that format since its inception, along with moderately sized servings. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Blum indicated that no portion sizes would be altered as part of Yum’s initiative, and he pointed out that a three-month-old calorie-posting law in New York City has had no effect on sales at Yum-brand outlets there. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

In fact, nearly 80 percent of diners in that city favor its mandate for on-menu calorie listings by local branches of chains with at least 15 U.S. units, according to a recent study by the foodservice research firm Technomic Inc. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

“The guest reaction in New York, shockingly, was unbelievably favorable,” said Jack Moran, vice president of the Belgium-based Le Pain Quotidien chain, which has 17 bakery-cafes in the city. He said New York’s law was “the proverbial gun to the head” that sparked a re-thinking of his chain’s entire menu, leading to a decision to post calories at all 32 of its U.S. outlets, including three in Washington, D.C., and 12 in Los Angeles. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

But unlike Yum, Le Pain Quotidien did see sales change as a result of New York’s menu mandate—though that change portends a potential boon in incremental revenue under the Yum-envisioned federal law. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

According to Moran, LPQ’s top-selling grilled-chicken-and-smoked-mozzarella tartine, a $10 item with 690 calories, was instantly surpassed in sales in New York by the $14 Atlantic smoked salmon tartine, after its 350 calories were posted, as required. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

“For no other reason, that old standby salmon, which has been on the menu since day one, suddenly became the No. 1 seller,” Moran said. “Clearly, people are shopping calories first and price second.” —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Though Yum isn’t predicting that its initiative will boost sales, it also isn’t expecting inordinate costs for menu retrofittings. The calorie additions “will be part of our routine change-outs” of indoor menu boards, Blum said. Under the California model, drive-thru menus would only state that nutrition brochures are available upon request. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Yum’s call for nationwide menu labeling was praised by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, which two years ago sued Yum over trans fats in KFC foods. The suit was dropped a few months later when KFC promised to change cooking oils to purge artery-clogging trans fats, which are formed by the hydrogenation of vegetable oils to extend their shelf life or make them solid. Yum changed oils last year, but trans fats are still present in KFC pot pies, biscuits and desserts. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

The “groundbreaking announcement” about Yum’s posting of calorie counts “is fabulous news for health-conscious consumers,” CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson was quoted as saying in a statement released by Yum. He said Yum was “leaping ahead of all its competitors” and had “gone an important step further” in seeking legislation to require calorie listings on all menus. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

The renowned health researcher Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard University’s medical school, also was quoted by Yum as saying its calorie pledge “deserves loud applause,” and he called Yum’s backing for legislation to impose uniform menu guidelines “exactly the kind of industry leadership we need.” —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

However, Willett remains one of the scientific community’s leading voices in calling for a total purge of artificial trans fats from all foods. He and federal health authorities have urged Americans to reduce their consumption to as close to zero as possible, and some watchdogs have warned that rules allowing amounts less than 0.5 grams per serving to be labeled as “0 grams” could cause the unwitting ingestion of meaningful amounts of trans fats from multiple products or servings. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Willett has estimated that trans fats cause as many as 100,000 deaths a year from coronary heart disease and as much as 40 percent of all cases of early-onset diabetes. However, Yum did not quote him on the continued presence, for example, of 14 grams of trans fats in a single KFC pot pie. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Blum said Yum’s chains are still working to shed all trans fats, but a timetable was not yet definite. —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

Calif. boasts calorie-posting compromise law, NRN Editorial —Franchisor Yum! Brands, whose

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