Sensing the change in the air, fast-food giant Yum! Brands today decided to rollout a menu labeling strategy for its five brands—KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s, and A&W. The company is the first national chain to voluntarily post calorie counts at all company-owned stores across the country. The menu labeling will begin this year and will be completed by the end of 2010.

The company will also encourage its franchisees to begin posting nutritional information on heir menuboards.

“Our customers have told us they would find calorie information useful, along with other nutritional information we make accessible in restaurant brochures and on our Web sites,” says Jonathan Blum, Yum Brands chief public affairs officer.

Consumer pressure for chains to post nutritional information has been mounting for some time. Just last week, Senators Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced the federal LEAN Act, which would require brands with at least 20 units to post calorie counts for all menu items if approved. Shortly after, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a bill on Tuesday requiring chains in the state with more than 20 locations to post calorie counts on menuboards.

“This legislation will help Californians make more informed, healthier choices by making calorie information easily accessible at thousands of restaurants throughout our state,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement Tuesday.

Beating legislators to the punch, Blum said in a statement that he calls on the Congress to enact a federal bill that would create consistency for menu labeling among chains—using California’s recent legislation as a template.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has long been a critic of the “hidden” calories in fast food, applauded the company’s move. “Yum is leaping ahead of all its competitors by providing the one piece of nutrition information that consumers most want,” Michael Jacobson, the organization’s executive director, says.

According to Blum, the cost of the change for franchisees is still unclear, but the transition should work into the company’s regular menuboard updates. “We haven’t looked at [cost],” he tells QSR. “We’re hopeful it will be in the normal course of business. We change out our menuboards periodically.”

In the interview, Blum highlighted the brands’ lower calorie options. It is still yet to be seen if consumers will really change their behaviors at quick-serves once the calorie counts are made public. Menu items such as the Meat Lovers Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut, clocking in at 530 calories per piece, and the Famous Bowls from KFC which have up to 800 calories each, may surprise some diners.
“Our responsibility is to continue to offer better-for-you options and to educate consumers about the foods they eat. … We believe that all food can be part of a balanced diet if eaten in moderation and balanced with exercise,” Blum says.

Yum Brands is based in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the world’s largest restaurant company in terms of unit counts, with 36,000 stores in more than 100 countries.

–Blair Chancey

Legal, News, A&W, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell