PORTLAND – If a cookie, cake or French fry contains partially hydrogenated oil, then it can't be labeled trans fat-free. However, if those same cookies, cakes and French fries have 0.5 grams or less, per serving, of the man-made fat that's linked to heart disease and other unhealthy conditions, then they can and will be labeled "trans fat-free per serving."
That Three-Card Monte marketing mumbo-jumbo was among the interesting nuggets of trans fats information at afternoon panel at the Northwest Foodservice Show today.
Here's another: While everyone and their fry cooks are scrambling to inform diners about healthful menu plans, some participants in the battle against trans fats play don't ask / don't tell.
When Nabisco kicked trans fats out of Oreos, the snack conglomerate didn't say anything for six months. Meanwhile, consumers continued eating Oreos, largely unaware of the reformulation.
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"Smart. Smart. Smart," said Paul Cosby of Morton and Associates, a firm that sells cooking oils. "We had already adjusted ourselves before they told us Oreos were different."
Vancouver-based Burgerville switched to trans fat-free frying oil about two years ago. Last year, the chain started advertising the switch.
"Most of our guests didn't even know," said Debe Nagy-Nero of Burgerville. "I still have guests who ask if we've even switched."
Burgerville's fries still contain trans fats; a trans-fat-free version of the fries, which arrive par-fried from supplier LambWesson, didn't taste right, Nagy-Nero said. But she said, "Trans fat-free is here to stay. There's no going back. It's about management and profitability now."
Managing the message is the advice of Margo Kraus, who works for the PR firm Fleishman-Hillard.
"Younger males may not be interested in trans fat-free," she said. "They may possibly be turned off by the perception of health food. You don't want to turn off your customers by making them think something contains carrots instead of meat."