For most people, the city of Pleasanton, CA has no significance other than its close proximity to San Francisco. But in the eyes of Taco Bell and McDonald’s, the town of 70,000 packs a mighty punch—it is home to The Organic Coup, America’s first certified organic fast-food restaurant.
That two franchisee titans should care about an upstart fried-chicken concept promoting ethical, sustainable practices marks a huge shift in consumer demand. After reading manifestos like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the masses are no longer satisfied with how a chicken tender tastes knowing that antibiotic-pumped poultry puts humans at risk for chronic disease, obesity, and drug-resistant bacteria. Now, even industry leaders like Chipotle have been called out for their lack of transparency.
For major food companies, the pressure is on to meet these needs—and it looks like many of the big guys are rolling with the punches. In an almost laughable series of announcements, heavyweights like Taco Bell and Subway have pledged to reform their menus. If this is truly the case—that they want to implement change rather than twist the zeitgeist into a PR stunt—then it is our duty as the eating public to hold these companies accountable.
To keep track of all the corporate noise, we’ve broken down a list of companies, along with their pledges and rollout plans. We’ll keep adding more as announcements are made, and also checking in on whether companies hit their deadlines.
After the debacle Taco Bell encountered in trying to explain its “88% beef” formula, the company pledged to remove artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup, and unsustainable palm oil from its menus by the end of this year. The shift will affect 95 % of the menu, minus fountain drinks and co-branded items like the Doritos-flavored taco shells. Additionally, by Dec 31st, 2016, more than 6,000 Taco Bell restaurants will be stocked with cage-free eggs. The company’s target goal is by far the most ambitious plan when compared to roll-out schedules of McDonald’s and Starbucks. Time reports that “in its statement about the change, Taco Bell says 500,000 hens will benefit” from the shift.
While it’s hard to erase the stain of Jared’s legacy, Subway is still on track to shore up its menu. Last year, the sandwich chain came under fire when people learned that azodicarbonamide, a substance found in yoga mats, was also present in its bread. The company has since removed that, and, according to Time, now plans to use banana peppers colored with turmeric instead of the mysterious Yellow No. 5, and offer turkey preserved with vinegar as opposed to propionic acid. Eater also reports that it’s looking to remove caramel coloring from the ham and roast beef. In other big news, Subway—which has more locations than any other fast-food franchise—is committing to phase out antibiotics not just from its chicken, but all of its meats by 2025.
Cereal has long epitomized the rampant use of synthetic ingredients, but it looks like even the world’s biggest cereal maker, Kellogg’s, is looking to shake things up. The company plans to stop using artificial colors and flavors in products like Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes, as well as cereal bars. Kellogg’s sales of cereals like Special K have been improving “after repositioning the brand as ‘wellness'” and these moves will help sustain that image.
Papa’s John’s shocked the Pizza Gods when it announced its plan to spend $100 million to remove additives. According to Bloomberg, Papa John’s has “honed in on a list of 14 ingredients…[that] are mostly in the chains dipping sauces.” Last year, MSG was removed from its ranch dressing. In the past, the chain also removed cellulose, “an anti-caking agent,” from its mozzarella cheese. Ten of the targeted ingredients will be removed by the end of this year, with the following four slated for the end of 2016.
The promise: Reduce sodium, remove artificial flavors
Rollout plan: End of 2015
Food conglomerate Nestlé vows to improve the nutritional quality of its products by expunging artificial flavors from 250 of its products over six brands, and reduce sodium by 10% in its frozen pizzas—including Hot Pockets, DiGiorno, and Tombstone.
The promise: Cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free chicken
Rollout plan: 2025
McDonald’s “uses some two billion shell and liquid eggs annually, or a little more than four percent of the 43.56 billion eggs produced in the United States last year,” reports the New York Times. Which makes its plan of attack to phase out caged hens over the course of the next ten years a significant one for the entire industry. The move, of course, also ties in nicely with the mega-chain’s most recent offering of all-day-breakfast. McDonald’s also made another bold statement in the poultry department, claiming that chicken served at the 14,000 U.S. restaurants would no longer contain antibiotics.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese’s iconic orange glow may lose its sheen in the company’s attempt to rid its pantry essential of artificial dyes and preservatives. Turmeric, paprika, and annatto will be the replacements for coloring ingredients. (In Europe, the food giant has already removed yellow artificial dyes due to health concerns.) This plan, however, may also be a direct response to the petition spearheaded by food blogger Vani Hari, who aggregated more than 350,000 signatures to change the recipe.
In its mission to completely eradicate eggs from caged hens, Dunkin’ is taking a tiny first step—guaranteeing that one out of every 10 eggs used to make breakfast sandwiches will be cage-free by the end of next year. Fortune reports that Dunkin’ “would also only source gestation crate-free pork in the U.S. by 2022.” Well-played.
America’s cult chicken-sandwich chain joined the pack of do-gooders when it announced its plans to serve poultry free of antibiotics, with practices verified and certified by the USDA. In addition to the prohibition of administering antibiotics during the entire life cycle of the chicken, Chick-fil-A also promises “a very strict auditing process” whereby each facility must maintain certification.