Many Companies are Removing Trans Fats from their Cooking Oil

Many Companies are Removing Trans Fats from their Cooking Oil

Trans fatty acids (commonly termed trans fats) are a type of unsaturated fat (and may be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated).


Trans fats occur naturally, in small quantities, in meat and dairy products from ruminants. Most trans fats consumed today, however, are industrially created through partial hydrogenation of plant oils and animal fats.

Unlike other fats, trans fats are neither required nor beneficial for health.Eating trans fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease.For these reasons, health authorities worldwide recommend that consumption of trans fat be reduced to trace amounts. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are generally considered to be worse than those occurring naturally.

Trans fats are increasingly being linked to chronic health conditions (see below), are tightly regulated in a few countries, are mandatory on product labels in many others, and are the central issue in several ongoing lawsuits (particularly against fast food outlets). Many companies are voluntarily removing trans fats from their products, or establishing trans-free product lines.

KFC, a unit of Yum Brands Inc., on Monday said it will switch to a cooking oil with no trans fat in all its U.S. fried-chicken restaurants by April 2007.

Yum Brands joins hamburger chain Wendy's International Inc. as many local governments, including new York City, look at banning the artery-clogging trans fats. Fast-food restaurants have come under increasing criticism that their food contributes to obesity.

Yum said the new oil will remove trans fats from all fried foods -- about 65 menu items -- which comprise 80 percent of KFC's menu. The company said it was working on ways to remove trans fats from items such as biscuits, which are not fried.

A Yum spokeswoman said the company was also switching oils at its roughly 800 restaurants in Canada. Restaurants in many other countries, including China, already use the healthier oil, she said.

"And if they don't already use (the zero trans-fat cooking oil), they're working on it now," said Laurie Schalow, a Yum spokeswoman.

McDonald's Corp. promised in 2002 to reduce trans fats in some of its products. While the chain has introduced healthier foods -- such as apple and walnut salads -- it has yet to convert its oils entirely, saying it has not found an alternative that works as well.

Yum said it would start using low linolenic soybean oil, a zero trans-fat cooking oil. The change will take effect in all 5,500 U.S. restaurants following a two-year trial to identify cooking oils with the same characteristics as the trans fats.

KFC currently uses partially-hydrogenated soybean oil. Since the new oil is also made from soybeans, it "preserves the taste profile," according to KFC Corp. President Gregg Dedrick.

Dedrick said KFC has already quietly begun using the healthier oil in several hundred restaurants in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and its hometown Louisville, Kentucky. He said consumers have not been able to tell the difference, but declined to say whether sales had been affected at the converted stores.

Dedrick told reporters at a news conference that Yum was working with several suppliers, including Monsanto Co., a leader in genetically altering crops. Dedrick said he did not know whether the oil KFC would be using had come from genetically-modified soybeans.

Once the transition is complete, KFC's most popular products, including its fried chicken, will contain zero grams of trans fat, the company said. Other products that will contain zero grams of trans fats will include Crispy Strips, Wings, Boneless Wings, Honey BBQ, Buffalo and Crispy Snacker Sandwiches, Popcorn Chicken, Twisters and Potato Wedges.

The U.S. food industry in general and many fast-food restaurants in particular have been under increasing pressure to offer healthier products in the wake of increasing incidence of obesity in the country, especially among children and adolescents.

"The fast food industry as a whole has been under some pressure to make this change, so it is really in their benefit to be proactive," said Arun Daniel a senior sector analyst at ING Investment Management.

But, at least in the near term, any increase in customer traffic at KFC is likely to be offset by the cost of making the change, he said.

"If anything, it could impact them negatively on the margins," Daniel said.

ING Investment Management owns about 600,000 Yum shares.

Dedrick said the investment to find and convert to the new oil had been factored into Yum's business model, so the company would not be taking any charges. He said the company would not raise menu prices and expected the price of the new oil to come down over time as supply and demand even out.

Yum, which also owns the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver's fast-food chains, said the other chains were exploring similar moves.

Trans fat increases the low-density lipoprotein, or the so- called bad cholesterol, content of food. Starting on Jan. 1, 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made it mandatory for all food products to list their trans-fat content.

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