Wendy’s gets leaner

Helen Palmer Jun 8, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Fast food. Delicious. Cheap. And loaded with heart-attack inducing fats. Not any more, though. At least not at Wendy’s. Wendy’s is the 3rd largest fast-food chain. Don’t have to tell you who’s one and two. Come August, though, it’ll be the first to start cooking in healthier oils. From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.

HELEN PALMER: Most of the fast food we’re offered is full of saturated and trans-fats. Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University expains why that’s bad for us.

ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: Transfatty acids as saturated fatty acids tend to increase LDL or the bad type of cholesterol in the blood stream and that’s associated with increased risk of heart disease.

Lichtenstein says it’s great news that Wendy’s will use healthier oil. That’ll cut the bad fat content of its fries and the like to nearly zero. Nutritionist Marion Nestle, author of “What to Eat,” says Wendy’s sales could get a boost.

MARION NESTLE: Well, it’s certainly a plus in marketing for health-conscious consumers. Whether health-conscious consumers are Wendy’s core population is a completely separate question.

Nestle points out that McDonalds has been trying for four years to find a healthier oil but hasn’t managed it, giving its smaller rival this market opportunity. Harry Balzer is vice president of the NPD Group which analyzes consumer behavior. Wendy’s move might pay off, he says.

HARRY BALZER: The one thing we know about healthy trends within America is that Americans like to try new healthy trends.

But Balzer says Americans don’t tend to stick with the new thing, so that boost may not last. Restaurant consultant Bob Goldin of Chicago-based Technomic agrees. Wendy’s will get lots of positive press, he says, but that may not help its bottom line much.

BOB GOLDEN: These healthier inititatives in the restaurant industry in the past haven’t met with a lot of consumer acceptance by and large.

Wendy’s spokesman says they’ve been testing this new healthier oil for over two years. It won’t cost them any more, he says, and the fries and chicken bits taste just as good as they used to.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

RYSSDAL: Wall Street didn’t think much of Wendy’s new get thin plan. Trimmed four-tenths of a percent from the company’s share price.

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