All 5,500 domestic restaurants of the chain once known as Kentucky Fried Chicken and famous for its 11 secret herbs and spices are switching from a solid shortening to a liquid format that reduces trans fats by 50%, according to franchisees. Franchisees contacted said the move was announced recently internally and would take place sometime between now and November.
'Heading in that direction'
The company "has been heading that direction for about a year," said KFC's third-largest franchise owner, John R. Neal. About 70% of his stores have used liquid shortening for years and a couple of months ago he converted all of his stores to use the liquid format.
"It would certainly be an improvement over what they're using. But they need to go all the way," said Michael Jacobsen, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which in June filed a lawsuit against Yum Brands for using partially hydrogenated oil and not informing the public of its high levels of trans fats. Judge James Robertson has yet to rule on Yum's motion to dismiss the case. "If this is a first phase and six months from now they are going to eliminate the rest [of the trans fat], that would be very important," he said.
"I wonder why they can't reduce or eliminate completely as other companies have done," said Stephen Joseph, president-CEO of bantransfats.com, known for winning lawsuits against Kraft over its trans-fat levels in Oreo cookies and foods and McDonald's Corp. for reneging on its vow to eliminate them. "I hope it's not a cost issue in disguise."
The cost difference is pennies, said KFC franchisee Mr. Neal, who added that "there is not enough oil" to supply the entire system and other big chains. "It's a question of when."
Clock is ticking
But the clock is ticking at the chain, which has a tougher time converting than most because of its heavily fried-food menu. In June, No. 3 fast-food chain Wendy's switched to trans-fat-free fries and chicken and has posted healthy sales since then. McDonald's Corp. is said to be testing trans-fat-free oils in several markets but refuses to set a timetable for a rollout. Since McDonald's sells more chicken on an annual basis than KFC, making its original recipe and other items healthier could give consumers a reason to visit the Colonel instead of the Golden Arches.
Another KFC owner-operator noted that the oil switch coincides with a KFC press briefing in New York Oct. 30, the same day of a public hearing in the Big Apple over a proposal to eliminate most trans fats from restaurant food and require fast-food companies to list calories for items on menu boards.
KFC issued a press release yesterday saying its president, Gregg Dedrick, would announce a "significant" change to its 5,500 U.S. restaurants. KFC representatives wouldn't discuss details of the event nor the company's move to a different cooking-oil format. "I don't have any information I can give on that right now," said a company spokesman.