LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Want to know how many calories are packed into that burrito or fried chicken you're ordering? Fast-food company Yum Brands Inc. says it's taking the guesswork out of counting calories.
The parent of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's and A&W All-American Food said Wednesday it will voluntarily place product calorie information on menu boards at its company-owned U.S. restaurants.
"We believe this is the right leadership role ... to be providing more information so consumers can make better-informed purchase decisions about the food they eat," Yum spokesman Jonathan Blum said.
The calorie count will be based on individual serving sizes rather than, for instance, on an entire pizza or bucket of chicken that a family would eat.
Yum said its franchisees will be encouraged to provide the same calorie information on their menu boards.
"We're hopeful that it will be at all of our restaurants across the United States," Blum said.
Yum has about 20,000 U.S. restaurants, and about 4,000 are company-owned.
The company said the calorie information will be phased onto menu boards starting this year and completed by Jan. 1, 2011. "We'll begin as quickly as we can," Blum said.
The company's decision got a thumbs-up from a consumer watchdog group.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called it a groundbreaking announcement that is "fabulous news for health-conscious consumers."
"We applaud this move and encourage other major chains to follow this bold example," Jacobson said in a Yum Brands news release.
Asked if the company anticipated a shift in sales away from higher-calorie items, Blum said, "All food can be part of a balanced diet if eaten in moderation and balanced with exercise."
Each of Yum's restaurant brands already offer lower calorie menu options.
Yum also said it will push for federal legislation to set uniform guidelines for such calorie displays.
"We think every supermarket, restaurant, convenience store — anybody who sells prepared food — ought to follow one standard, uniform guideline," Blum said.
Yum also announced it will quit advertising its products on television programs aimed at children under 12. Blum said the company does little advertising on such programs, but said "we're taking a stand."
The company said it will launch national online exercise programs featuring University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino to help educate consumers about maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
The moves are the company's latest moves to keep up with health conscious customers. In 2007, Taco Bell and KFC switched to cooking oils with zero grams trans fat per serving.
New York City this year began requiring all fast food restaurants to post calories on their menu boards. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation this week that would require chain restaurants in the state to post calories on menus.