Year in review: How fast food tried to get svelte in 2014

A Whopper sandwich at a Burger King restaurant in Allison Park, Pa.
A Whopper sandwich at a Burger King restaurant in Allison Park, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

PARIS – They’re potatoes sliced into shoestrings before making their way into the deep fryer, doused in salt and dunked in ketchup. French fries can be healthy, right?

While 2014 still had its fair share of gluten-free crazes and green juice detoxes, fast food companies tried desperately to keep up with the health-conscious consumer.

From “skinny” pizza slices to low-calorie fries, here are five ways fast food giants tried (and sometimes failed) to trim the fat from their menus and your waistline.

Pizza Hut introduces the “skinny” slice; still contains dough, cheese, meat

Move over, thin-crust veggie slice. This fall, Pizza Hut launched a “lighter pizza” in two U.S. cities – Toledo, Ohio, and West Palm Beach, Florida.

The pies use less dough than the regular option and they’re lighter on the toppings, according to American reports.

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The slice is supposed to be customised with up to five toppings, and shouldn’t exceed 300 calories. A regular slice of pan pizza clocks in at 350 calories as a comparison.

If they’re a hit, the Skinny Slice could made its way into other locations, the company said.

Burger King’s Satisfries try and…fail in untimely death

When a beloved menu item is discontinued, it’s mourned by the general public. (McRib, here’s looking at you.)

This fast food promised 20 per cent fewer calories than its full-calorie counterpart. It’s unclear why BK’s Satisfries didn’t amass a cult following. The product launched in September 2013 and was pulled by August a year later. Critics called them “Saddest Fries.”

READ MORE: Burger King nixes lower calorie ‘Satisfries’

A small portion clocks in at 270 calories, but McDonald’s small fries has 230 calories, the Associated Press noted. Satisfries were also more expensive.

Burger King said Satisfries used a different type of batter to prevent some oil from being absorbed by the potatoes during frying. But the company did not have signs in restaurants explaining the difference between Satisfries and regular fries.

Keep in mind, BK also created the “French Fry Burger” which is – you guessed it – a burger topped with four fries. Creative, huh?

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McDonald’s adds healthy dishes, even if no one buys them

The golden arches pulled out all the stops this year: breakfast sandwiches made with egg whites, salad and fruit side dishes, chicken wraps made with…cucumbers, the first time the vegetable made its way onto any McDonald’s menu item.

Reporters and bloggers in New York were fed Kung Pao chicken made with McNuggets, the classic French fries were fashioned into gnocchi and smoothies were churned into fruit sauce. Yeah, that really happened.

READ MORE: McDonald’s confronts its junk food image as sales flag

McDonald’s is grasping at its orange-coloured straws to transform its image from unhealthy fast food to “good food served fast.” It’s competing with the likes of Panera and Chipotle that peddle organic, fresh fare for just a little more cash.

READ MORE: Hold the fries! McDonald’s sees North American sales slip further

It’s ushered in salads, but they only make up about two per cent of sales. Its fruit and walnut salad was discontinued altogether.

Instead, it’s focusing on giving the consumer the choice – choose your burger bun, choose your side, for example – in shedding its drive-thru image.

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Campbell soup ditches the liberal salt shaking

It’s been a rough year for chicken noodle soup. Sodium took a beating – the at-times horrifying salt levels in our food will now be revealed on menus, meanwhile the research incessantly tied the kitchen staple to heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

Most Canadians eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s more than double the amount we need: Healthy adults should aim for about 1,500 milligrams.

READ MORE: Kicking the can – Campbell Soup hit by fresh food shift

Canned soup was ostracized. Some cans range from about 360 mg of sodium – about 15 per cent of our daily allowance – right up to almost 1,000 mg.

Campbell saw its quarterly profit fall by 30 per cent in 2013. It’s now trying to reach out to the consumer shopping for fresh fare with soups in bright, plastic pouches and sauces in modern, black packaging.

It’s also whittling down its sodium content. In 2013, it was at the centre of a U.S. federal lawsuit for its “Heart Check” certification.

Burning question: How are can openers faring in the fallout of a tumultuous 2014?

Subway breaks up with “yoga mat chemical” in bread

Bloggers became a force to be reckoned with in the past few years – this time, sandwich giant Subway was a target.

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In February, U.S. health food blogger Vani Hari — known as Food Babe —launched a petition calling on the sandwich chain to remove a chemical from its bread. (You might remember her for spearheading a crusade urging Kraft to remove the orange dyes from the iconic Kraft Dinner.)

READ MORE: Chemical in Subway bread also in Canada, but will be removed, company says

On her website, she noted that the chemical azodicarbonamide wasn’t used in other countries such as the U.K., across the European Union and in Australia. But it was readily found in North American subway bread — nine grain wheat, nine grain honey oat, Italian white, Italian Herbs and Cheese, Parmesan Oregano, Roasted Garlic, Sourdough and Monterrey Cheddar breads, to be precise.

The World Health Organization linked azodicarbonamide to respiratory issues, asthma and allergies. Hari said that the chemical was used to make yoga mats, shoe soles and other rubbery objects.

In Subway’s case, it was being used as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner, which allowed the company to produce bread faster and cheaper, according to Hari’s petition.

Some 100,000 people signed the petition. By April, Subway promised its sandwich bread would be free of the contentious “yoga mat” chemical.

With files from the Associated Press’ Candice Choi


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