Trans Fat Is the New Cigarette – Packaged Food Companies and Fast Food Chains Have Reputations In Crisis!
“If you removed trans fat from the planet, the only people who would feel the difference are the people who sell the trans fat.” Commented Dr. Steen Stender, one of the leading Danish experts who lobbied for the anti-trans fat law in Denmark. According to the Associated Press, two years ago, Denmark declared war on artery-clogging oils, making it illegal for any food to have more than 2 percent trans fats.
Offenders now face hefty fines — or even prison terms. The result? Today, hardly anyone notices the difference. The french fries are still crispy. The pastries are still scrumptious. And the fried chicken is still tasty. Denmark’s experience offers a hopeful example for places like Canada, Chicago and New York City, which are considering setting limits on the dangerous artery-clogging fats. Trans-fatty acids typically are added as partially hydrogenated oils to processed foods such as cookies, margarine and fast food. They are cheaper to produce than healthier oils — such as canola, corn or olive oil — and give foods a longer shelf life.
Producers also argue that removing them from processed foods will change tastes and textures beloved by consumers. However, trans fats also have been called the tobacco of the nutrition world. They lower good cholesterol while raising bad cholesterol. Even eating a daily amount that is less than 5 grams of trans fat — the amount found in one piece of fried chicken and a side of french fries — has been linked with a 25 percent increased risk of heart disease.
“No other fat at these low levels of intake has such harmful effects,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
It is still too early to tell if removing trans fats from food in Denmark has improved the country’s health.
The Danish health ministry reports that cardiovascular disease has fallen by 20 percent in the past five years. However, other countries have reported similar drops in heart disease where smoking has been restricted and where industry has made efforts to improve some foods.
In countries that are making no effort to regulate the amount of trans fat in food, such as Hungary and Bulgaria, heart disease rates have continued to climb.
Denmark is the only country to have so sharply limited trans fats, passing a law in 2003 that came into effect in 2004, making it illegal for any food to contain more than 2 percent of trans fat.
For Danes like Troels Nyborg Andersen, the government’s decision means he feels less guilty about his fast-food habit.
“I know trans fats are bad, but you don’t think about that when you’re hungry,” said the 27-year-old Copenhagen native, chomping a hamburger. “It’s good that the Danish government got rid of trans fats so that I don’t have to worry about it.”
That was the rationale that motivated the trans fat ban.
“We wanted to protect people so that they would not even have to know what trans fat was,” said Dr. Steen Stender, one of the leading Danish experts who lobbied for the anti-trans fat law.
Though obesity rates are rising in Denmark, they are far below those of most countries: Just 11 percent of the Danish population was obese in 2005, less than half of Britain’s obesity rate, estimated at 23 percent.
When faced with the prospect of a trans fat ban, industries typically rebel. Other countries in the European Union initially objected to Denmark’s ban, arguing it would be economically unfair since their foods could not be legally imported into Denmark.
Many producers also were concerned about the possible change in texture and taste without the additives.
Preserving the delicacy of traditional Danish pastries was a major concern at Copenhagen’s famed La Glace cafe, renowned for its pastries and cakes. When the trans fat law kicked in, its bakers began experimenting.
“There was a bit of a crisis,” admitted Marianne Stagetorn Kolos, La Glace’s owner.
The first attempts were disastrous. The trans fat-free margarines melted too soon, destroying the flakiness of the 81-layered pastries.
“Everything was flat,” Stagetorn said. Luckily, the problem was solved by switching margarine suppliers.
Customers like Anne Petersen haven’t noticed.
The pastries “taste just as good as they always did,” said the 59-year-old sales assistant, who favors the raspberry version. “If it wasn’t for the law, I never would have known that there wasn’t any trans fat.”
Stender and other health experts say Denmark’s trans fat ban should be adopted worldwide.
“There’s no reason it cannot be done elsewhere,” he said, explaining that the food in Denmark is not markedly different from food anywhere else. “If you removed trans fat from the planet, the only people who would feel the difference are the people who sell the trans fat.”
A few comments from the Reputation Doctor regarding the trans fat crisis:
We can learn a lot from Denmark’s leadership in dealing with trans fat. They put health before profits.
A MESSAGE TO CORPORATE FOOD GIANTS: You can learn a thing or two from Denmark. If the long-term goal in business is to build brand loyalty for life through strong affinity marketing, isn’t Truth with a capital T a corporate brand’s best friend? Isn’t hiding the truth the same as lying to your customers? Won’t building back trust be very difficult if the whole truth rises to the top regarding trans fats and your company? Here is a prediction: if your company does not switch to a very healthy non-trans fat oil before the end of 2007, the impact on your various brands still using trans fat will be devastating.
Packaged food companies, fast-food chains and restaurants all over the world have known trans fats are very bad for many, many years.
Here is the simple formula and bottom line: trans fats both lower your good cholesterol and raise your bad cholesterol. That is a crisis combination for any person eating a lot of trans fat, especially our children who don’t know any better, who are now hooked like an addict in search of a needle.
Trans fats in food is the new “cigarette” crisis.
I was quoted in Advertising Age magazine over a year ago discussing the reputation crisis for packaged food companies and fast food chains regarding trans fat in American foods. I described trans fat as the new “cigarette” crisis in America. My friends who are executives in the food business were not thrilled with my characterization, but I believe it is true. It is time for global corporations in the packaged food business and fast food business to wake up and smell the bad fat. This problem is not going to go away and the more the onion is peeled back the smellier the problem will get. Time to embrace change or die a slow death in the world of public opinion.
Cities across America will ban trans fat soon. The time is now for packaged food companies and fast food chains to seek help in the court of public opinion from a seasoned reputation management and crisis PR expert.
New York, Chicago and several other large and small cities are discussing banning trans fats in America today. Any corporation or lobbyist for a corporation trying to defend the continued use of trans fats in cooked and packaged foods has their head in the sand and does not understand the power of public opinion. Also remember, attorneys are NOT the experts in reputation management and crisis public relations, seasoned reputation management and crisis public relations counselors are. We get paid roughly the same amount for a reason: we are professionals, we are experts in the court of public opinion and we provide results for both the short term and the long term.
Remember, do the right thing when your reputation is in crisis and seek the counsel of an experienced reputation management expert. It will be a major challenge, but ultimately the rewards of repairing your reputation will be great. Why? Because Your Reputation Is Everything!™