June 8, 2006

Wendy’s cuts most trans fats from fries, chicken

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Wendy's International Inc. on Thursday said it would significantly cut trans fats from its menu, beating market leader McDonald's Corp., which still has not made good on its promise to remove the artery-clogging fats from french fries in the United States.

Wendy's, the No. 3 U.S. burger chain, said its restaurants in the United States and Canada will switch to a new blend of corn and soy oil for french fries and breaded chicken items starting in August.

The move will reduce trans fats in french fries to just zero to 0.5 grams, depending on serving sizes, while all of the breaded chicken products will have zero grams of trans fats.

Wendy's, based in Dublin, Ohio, said it has been working on the switch for a year and is already testing the new cooking oil in more than 370 restaurants in Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada.

Kerrii Anderson, Wendy's interim chief executive officer, said the changes were being made "without jeopardizing the great taste our customers expect."

McDonald's famously announced in 2002 that it planned to reduce trans fats in its french fries, but so far has failed to live up to that promise as it has yet to come up with an alternative that the company thinks has an acceptable taste.

In May, McDonald's Chief Executive James Skinner conceded the company should not have announced the plan before having an alternative in place.

A McDonald's spokesperson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Wendy's said it will become the first national hamburger chain using non-hydrogenated oil.

Burger King Holdings Inc., the second-largest U.S. burger chain, could not immediately comment on its plans.

A large order of french fries at Wendy's had 7 grams of trans fats, and will now have 0.5 grams with the new blended oil. An order of chicken strips, which had 3 grams of trans fats, will have zero grams.

The servings of nuggets and french fries in its kids' meals will have zero grams of trans fat once the switch is made.

Wendy's said it is working with french-fry suppliers to further cut the amount of trans fats that occur as part of the preparation at their facilities, with a goal of zero grams.

Wendy's said using a non-hydrogenated oil also reduces saturated fats in its breaded chicken and french fries an average of 20 percent.

The announcement comes just a week after Wendy's added two healthier choices, a yogurt and granola cup and Baked Lay's potato chips, as options for its combo meals in lieu of fries.

Combo meals at fast-food chains typically come with french fries as a side dish. Wendy's began offering lower-calorie side salads, baked potatoes and chili as options on its combo menu in December 2004.

(With reporting by Brad Dorfman)