Sat | May 25, 2019

Fast-food joints to serve up healthier meals

Published:Wednesday | May 15, 2019 | 12:27 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer

A number of fast-food chains are expected to increase the range of healthy or light menu options to consumers in a few months in keeping with the Government’s recently announced wellness push.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has confirmed to The Gleaner that he has met with the operators of KFC, Island Grill, Mother’s, Burger King, Tastee and Juici Patties and “pitched the need to provide greater information to customers around lighter/healthier choices, as well as ‘better-for-you’ menu options.

The minister said the buy-in from the six chains is expected to have a ripple effect on other fast food entities like Chinese restaurants.

“We are not challenging consumer loyalty. What we want is to give those consumers a healthier choice and there was overwhelming support. We have embarked on a programme for the next three months to have each of them come up with what constitutes a lighter choice,” said Tufton.

“Some have it already, and some are working on it. They also will be developing a common symbol that could be affixed to that menu option so people easily recognise it represents a lighter choice for them. If you combine those six brands, you are looking at hundreds of stores, and that is just the start.”

Tina Matalon, marketing director of Restaurants of Jamaica, which operates KFC locally, indicated on Monday that the entity joined the initiative Because of a growing trend among customers. She said that for many years, the company has been providing lighter options, but will be increasing the options.

“It is our intention, in light of the minister’s agenda, to join the initiative of having the quick-service restaurants industry provide consumers with options. We are proud that we have high-quality, great-tasting meals, but we do realise a growing trend. For us, it is not really options for healthier, because our meals are not unhealthy, but options that may be lighter,” Matalon told The Gleaner.

She said the ministry’s move aligns with what KFC was already practising with the introduction of a salad and wrap line about five years ago. Added to that, Matalon said KFC products are 100 per cent trans fat free.

“That is definitely aligned with what we are already on the path of doing, whether it be lighter or whether they are of a different cooking form, like grilled. We are looking to see where, without jeopardising taste, we can continue to provide more light options,” she added.

An important part of a healthier package is the make-up of juices. It was in acknowledgement of this that Island Grill introduced natural juices to its menu, CEO Thalia Lyn said.

“From day one, we have been known to be the leader in a healthier option out there. We have had one meal on the menu for a long time – called the Go Lite – which is a healthier option; you get a quarter chicken with vegetables. We noticed that there is a trend away from sodas to anything that is fruit-based, and that is why we were determined to come up with more fruit- or vegetable-based beverages.”

Highlighting the country’s alarming levels of obesity and chronic diseases, nutritionist Enid Baptiste welcomed the new thrust as “an excellent idea”.

“Jamaicans are getting overweight and it is affecting young children. I am glad because they love those places and it is hard to get them from it because of the taste,” she said. “Sweet drinks are an issue. They need to put less sugar in the beverages they offer. People are really concerned. Even teenagers come in to see me, who are really obese.”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com