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03/09/02 . By Brad Dorfman . Yahoo! News . U.S.A.
Mcdonald's to Change French Fry Oil
CHICAGO (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp. has made a weighty decision: cook its famous french fries in a new oil that reduces the type of fats linked to heart disease.
The move comes as the world's No. 1 restaurant chain struggles to fend off intensifying competition and combat the perception among consumers that its quality is poor and service unsatisfactory.
McDonald's, which a decade ago tried unsuccessfully to introduce healthier options such as the McLean Deluxe and lower fat shakes, is now more likely to face a receptive audience, analysts said.
"Now people are worried," said John Glass, an analyst at CIBC World Markets. "Their knowledge of fat and the type of fat you consume is more sophisticated."
Criticized by some nutrition experts for contributing to obesity and other health problems with its fat-laden fries, McDonald's said it will begin cooking them in a new oil that reduces trans-fatty acids by 48 percent and saturated fat by 16 percent.
Health experts say that reducing trans-fatty acids and saturated fat, while increasing polyunsaturated fat, can be healthier for the heart.
NOT A HEALTH FOOD
But fast-food addicts should not rush out to the Golden Arches and gorge themselves on the new french fries in the hope of shedding pounds.
The new fries will still have the same amount of total fat, McDonald's said, with polyunsaturated fat rising 167 percent. And the number of calories in a large order of fries will remain at 540.
Still, health advocates said the reduction of certain types of fat, to be rolled out at 13,000 U.S. McDonald's restaurants beginning in October, is a step in the right direction.
"(The fries) will be better, but they won't be a health food," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been critical of fast-food restaurants in the past.
One large order of McDonald's fries will still contain about a third of the recommended daily amount of saturated fat and trans-fatty acids, she said.
According to McDonald's Web site, a large order of fries currently contains 26 grams of fat, with 4.5 grams of saturated fat. The daily government recommended amount, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, is 65 grams of total fat and 20 grams of saturated fat.
In recent years, fast food has been assailed by health advocates for contributing to the growing girth of Americans, with some 50 million people now considered obese.
In July, a New York man sued four fast-food chains, including Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's, claiming the food contributed to his obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Some class-action attorneys are looking to take on the food companies and restaurants as they did tobacco companies, seeking billions of dollars in damages for health problems and deaths.
McDonald's, which pioneered the fast food concept, also now faces competition from fast-food chains such as Subway, which have tried to lure consumers away by promoting lower fat, lower calorie items on their menus.
The United States, where McDonald's has been trying to reverse several years of slowing sales growth, accounts for 60 percent of the company's operating profit.
McDonald's insisted the new french fries, developed with agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., will taste the same as the old ones, which is a key for keeping customer loyalty.
"Their brand equity is so closely related to their french fries," Glass said.
Taste and low price are still the key attractions at McDonald's, several consumers in New York said.
"I don't care what they use as long as it tastes good," said Rahman Anderson, a 24-year old mailroom employee at Chase, at the McDonald's in Times Square.
Other popular items such as Chicken McNuggets, Filet-O-Fish, hash browns, and crispy chicken sandwiches also will be cooked in the new oil.
McDonald's shares closed down 73 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $23.03 in Tuesday trading on the New York Stock Exchange ( news - web sites).
A spokesman for competitor Wendy's International Inc. said the No. 3 hamburger chain changed to a healthy cooking method six years ago, reducing trans-fatty acids and saturated fat by cooking in oil instead of shortening.
Privately-held Burger King Corp. also said that it cut the saturated fat level in its fries by more than 50 percent when it switched from frying them in an animal and vegetable shortening mix to a partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening in 1990.
"While Burger King has made no decision to
remove trans-fatty acids from the partially
hydrogenated vegetable oil used to prepare
french fries, it continues to monitor the
latest scientific research for potential
enhancements to our products," it said in a