By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Last week, consumers of fast food got some great news: YUM! Brands announced that it will post calorie counts on menu boards at KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Long John Silver’s – all chains that it owns. About 4,000 of Yum’s company-owned stores will begin to post calories on menu boards now, and the company says all of its 20,000 stores will do so by Jan. 1, 2011, if not sooner.
Why is this great news for consumers? Because consumers want to know what’s in their food, including calories. For years, health advocates concerned about our obesity epidemic, including the National Consumers League, have been wrestling with the food industry – including sit-down restaurants and fast food outlets – to get them to post calories in a prominent place: on menus customers receive when they sit down for a meal or on the board you read when you order a burger and fries. YUM!’s getting out in front on this issue will put pressure on others in the industry to do the same.
Even Michael Jacobsen, the take-no-prisoners director of the organization Center for Science in the Public Interest, known in many circles as the “food police,” had this comment: “I never thought I’d say this, but I salute Colonel Sanders!
Consumers shouldn’t have to fight to learn basic nutritional information about the food they are eating. Ever tried to find out what the calorie count is of a burger at a fast food outlet? It’s like going on a treasure hunt. The staff has to search around behind the counter for the information. If you’re lucky, they will locate a sheet that lists the calories. Often times they can’t find it. Several years ago I lived in Australia. Every fast food item has a wrapper that lists the calories and other nutritional information for whatever you’re eating. I wondered why we couldn’t do that here.
The National Consumers League agrees with Michael Jacobsen of CSPI: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Applebee’s, and other major chains should follow YUM!’s example. YUM! is also backing legislation that would require restaurants to list calories on menus and menu boards. Good for them!
YUM! is ahead of the pack in taking a voluntary approach to what’s becoming mandatory in some places around the country. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just signed into law a bill that requires chains in California with 20 or more locations to post calorie information on menu items by Jan. 1, 2011. A stricter form of nutrition labeling went into effect in New York City last July.
So this is the trend, and it’s good for consumers. No, not every consumer cares about caloric information in the food they eating. But plenty do, and they should have easy access to that information. YUM! Brand’s announcement last week is good news for consumers and, we can only hope, a harbinger of things to come in the fast food industry.