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McDonald's Says New Cooking Oil Is Healthier

Food: Chain will make items with less saturated fat and trans-fatty acids, which have been linked to heart disease.

September 04, 2002|From Times Wire Services

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, announced Tuesday, 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 will introduce oil with lower levels of trans-fatty acids and saturated fat at some restaurants next month, the company said. All of its 13,000 U.S. locations will use the oil by February for its fries, Chicken McNuggets, Filet-O-Fish, hash browns and chicken sandwiches.

Reducing trans-fatty acids and saturated fat, while increasing polyunsaturated fat, can be healthier for the heart, health experts say.

The change comes as fast-food chains are being sued for their high-fat content and rivals such as Wendy's International Inc. boost sales by offering salads as an alternative to fries and burgers.

"I guess they're trying to appeal to health-conscious people," said Clara Braun, a 49-year-old accounting clerk having two cheeseburgers, fries and a Diet Coke at a Chicago McDonald's.

"There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't eat McDonald's because it's healthy."

McDonald's, which a decade ago tried unsuccessfully to introduce healthier options such as the McLean Deluxe and lower-fat shakes, probably will face a receptive audience, analysts said.

"Now people are worried [about their diet and health]," 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% and saturated fat by 16%.

McDonald's stressed that the new French fries, developed with agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., will taste the same as the old ones, which it concedes is a key for keeping customer loyalty.

Analyst Glass agreed.

"Their brand equity is so closely related to their French fries," he said.

Some McDonald's customers in New York feel strongly about this.

"I don't care what they use as long as it tastes good," said Rahman Anderson, a 24-year-old mailroom worker dining at the McDonald's in Times Square.

The new fries will have the same amount of fat as the old ones, McDonald's said, with polyunsaturated fat rising 167%. And the number of calories in a large order of fries will remain at 540.

Shares of Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's fell 73 cents, or 3%, to $23.03 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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