This week’s 4 bonus head-spinning moments: ‘What’d you say?'

The choice of a ferocious industry basher for a prestigious trade honor wasn’t the only moment this week that had us wondering if Rod Serling secretly lived on. Among The Twilight Zone moments were these developments, which seemed to undermine the realities of just a week or two ago.

“We’re making our food more natural. But note the asterisk.”

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut turned the heads of consumers and restaurateurs alike when they aired plans at the end of May to yank additives and artificial ingredients from their menu signatures, part of a new commitment to serve food of greater integrity. Less than two weeks later, the former is preparing to roll out a bright pink blob of fried doughnut dough that’s filled with a sweet white goo and coated with bits of Cap’n Crunch cereal.  And the latter is introducing a Hot Dog Bites Pizza, consisting of 28 mini-hot dogs embedded in the outer crust of a pie. USA Today out-and-out tagged the pizza as Franken-food.

The Cap’n Crunch Delights, no doubt freshly plucked off a Cap’n Crunch berry bush, will be sold in packs of two for $1, four for $1.69 and 12 for $4.49. The dessert is expected to be introduced chainwide on July 2.

The pigs-in-a-pizza concoction is priced at $11.99 and comes with branded mustard.

“No more ’23-skidoo’?”

Also turning noggins this week was the revelation by new Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol of the weekly language lessons that younger staffers of the chain provide the rest of headquarters on a weekly basis. A group of twentysomething employers select a Millennial Word of the Week and email the vocabulary addition to the whole main office. The notion is to keep the brand in touch with the Millennials who gobble up its Gorditas. It’s an idea that’s definitely on cleek (aside to Boomers: That’s a good thing. Think, “really groovy.”)

“More labeling is needed.” 

The most serious risk of neck sprain came with the almost simultaneous indications from New York City and San Francisco of imminent new efforts to flag the health dangers of over-indulgence. 

The Big Apple is almost certain to require local outlets of chains to flag items containing more than a teaspoon of sodium by depicting a saltshaker icon next to their menu listing. Local legislators are currently fielding comments on the proposal, and restaurants are presumably giving them an earful.  But City Hall initiatives of this sort seldom advance so far in New York without adoption. Remember, the city was the first place to adopt menu labeling and a trans fat ban, and even tried to regulate soft-drink serving sizes. Initiatives that start there tend to catch hold elsewhere.

Meanwhile, San Francisco officials are pushing a requirement that warning labels be included in billboard-style ads promoting sugared drinks. The advisories would note that sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Details are still being decided, but Starbucks’ Frappuccinos have already been cited as qualifying for the warning. The chain would either have to stop promoting the drinks or stamp the ads with a health alert.

Any restaurant ad featuring a drink would presumably also have to include the warning.

Opponents say the measure is unfair. They note that a doughnut chain would still be able to promote its sugary signatures without a caveat, but a restaurant couldn’t.


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