In a bold move, Wendy’s announced that its food will get a clean label makeover. Wendy’s CEO Emil J. Brolick stated, “We want to get to the point where nothing on our labels looks like it came from a chemistry book.” The statements were made in Boston at the RBC Capital Markets Consumer and Retail Conference. Brolick continued to explain that eventually Wendy’s wants to only be using ingredients that their average customer knows.
This comes after the backlash Subway received when consumers found out it used the same material in its bread that is used in yoga mats, azodicarbonamide. After an online petition for Subway to remove the chemical, which is also used in shoe rubber, gained major attention Subway did commit to removing the chemical from its bread at an undisclosed time. Azodicarbonamide is approved by the FDA for use as a dough conditioner, however it is banned in Europe and Australia. Advocacy groups claim it can cause respiratory symptoms, such as occupational asthma.
Currently, Wendy’s has not commented as to if it uses azodicarbonamide in its buns, but Brolick did say on Wednesday that he is pleased that Wendy’s has what he feels are “absolutely some of the cleanest labels in the business.” Some of the not so clean ingredients that Wendy’s currently uses includes an anti-foaming agent, dimethylpolysiloxane, and sodium phosphate, which can be found in some detergents.
Brolick says part of the reason behind why the food at Wendy’s will get a clean label makeover is to connect with the consumers. In particular, the 77 million people in the millennial generation. Brolick believes that Wendy’s has not done a good job connecting with them as of yet, and plans to change this because millennials are influential in the forming of brand perceptions. Brolick also spoke of the need for evolution and that the best companies compete against themselves rather than compete with others in the field.
Some may be wondering if it is a good idea to publicly announce the plans to make changes. When a company announces the plan to change ingredients, it can draw attention to the fact that it has undesirable ingredients in use. When attention is brought to these ingredients it can negatively impact one’s business, especially when the internet is involved.
The internet has given consumers the option to be activists, and get others involved asking for companies to change. Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj, who analyzes the packaged food and beverage industry, notes that individuals used to just write a letter to complain about an ingredient, and then that customer would stop buying the product. Now with the internet, which Dibadj referred to as “a bullhorn,” consumers can quickly and effectively gather together others to participate in petitions and boycotts to ask for a change.
Some companies are choosing to quietly make changes to their products rather than announce it. For example, in 2013 Chick-fil-A quietly removed some ingredients from its sauces, ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients. They also tested out a bun with clean ingredients, though they did not announce it to their customers. Chick-fil-A has however made it clear they are committed to keeping up with the changing tastes of customers.
Though there was no date announced for the project to be completed, Wendy’s will be evaluating products for ingredients and cost profiles in order to ensure their food will get a clean label makeover. Brolick announced that Wendy’s has, “so much opportunity in front of us.”
By Ashley Campbell