The decision by Hungry Jacks to introduce sides of vegetables with its meals from next month has been met with apprehension from health professionals.
The burger giant, who last month refused to join KFC in banning toys with kids’ meals, will start serving a vegetable medley, which includes raw carrot, celery and capsicum sticks, along with optional hummus dip.
Chief executive of Hungry Jack’s Australia, Aaron McKie, told AAP the “salad stix” are a “nutritional goldmine.”
It may be comments such as these that have raised the antenna of nutritional experts, who say the move is nothing more than a marketing gimmick and the fast food giant is not concerned with the health of customers at all.
“It is a healthy snack of necessary nutrients without unwanted kilojoules and creates a whole new product category for fast food,” McKie said.
The Hungry Jack’s boss is adamant the company is making health changes to its menu, albeit “quiet” ones, by his own emission.
He said there have been reductions in the saturated fat, sugar and sodium in their products which have cost the company big.
Yet, they have not felt the need to crow about said changes; which in modern times, when nutrition is a top concern for many consumers, is an interesting move.
”If Hungry Jack’s thinks selling a few sticks of celery is going to take the heat off them, then they are wrong,” director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Curtin University, Mike Daube said.
Jane Martin, Senior Policy Advisor of the Obesity Policy Coalition told Food Magazine the biggest problem will be the price of the vegetables the burger giant is offering.
“It’s very expensive for what you’re getting, and the people who tend to frequent these places are cost-conscious so the $5 or so they’re charging is a major issue.
“It just shows how cheap highly processed food is,” she said.
“The problem with these fast foods is that they’re not only prepared quickly, they’re also eaten quickly, it’s just the nature of the food.”
Martin said there is particular concern about the amount of junk foods Australian children are eating.
“Studies have shown children are eating too much salt and that is a dangerous thing.”
The concern over obesity rates, particularly in children, has increased in recent times, with studies finding one in four Australian children are overweight or obese.
Along with KFC’s recent ban on toys with kids meals – and Hungry Jack’s and McDonald’s decicion not to follow suit – there have been more calls to have junk food advertising to children banned.
Martin echoed claims that the initiative is part of a marketing gimmick to increase profits and said there should be a better way to make sure the food being served at the outlets is nutritious.
“I think we know that when McDonald’s were putting the Heart Foundation tick on their menus, it went very well for them, and they sold more burgers and fries because of it,” she told Food Magazine.
As to whether Hungry Jack’s has the health and nutrition of its customers as its main priority, Martin said she is not entirely convinced.
“These companies are in the business of selling burgers and fries, there are big profits in that.
“This is not going to have a high turnover, and it is only on a trial basis.”
She believes there are other changes fast food outlets can make to create healthier food options, including finding ways to include more fresh vegetables onto the burgers themselves.