Lloyd Hill, President and CEO of Applebee's

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This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, July 25, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, as the pressure builds on the food industry, Applebee’s (search) is going healthy. The dining chain joining forces with Weight Watchers (WTW) to offer low-calorie fare at its restaurants. That is a big change from its most popular menu items, like the house sirloin and the riblets entree. So will the customers go for it?

Let’s ask the man who runs Applebee’s, Lloyd Hill.


CAVUTO: Mr. Hill, what are you doing? You’re kowtowing to the food police.

HILL: Well, it would really be unfortunate if anybody thought that at all. It’s more about a strategic partnership with one of the best brands in the world. It’s been in the works for about two years, so it has very little to do, Neil, with the current clamor over obesity.

CAVUTO: All right. But you’ve to wonder. Now, Lloyd, you’re a very smart restaurateur. You have one of the most successful stocks in the industry. But it’s coming at a time when a lot of these fast-food police are coming after you guys, saying that you’ve got to have something on your menu that’s lean and mean.

Why give them the satisfaction? I guess that’s what I’m wondering.

HILL: Well, it’s about giving our guests satisfaction.

CAVUTO: Yes, but wait a minute. See, that’s a good point. If someone’s going into your restaurant -- they’re looking for Weight Watchers fare? I don’t buy that.

HILL: Well, there are 27,000 Weight Watcher meetings held around the United States weekly. There are millions of devotees to Weight Watchers, including my own wife. So, at present, I’m not sure that we appeal to those people.

As a matter of fact, Neil, it’s interesting to note that, just this morning, I’ve heard from guests, as a result of the press release about our association with Weight Watchers, who had abandoned Applebee’s and are now saying they can’t wait to come back because they want to know what they’re eating.

CAVUTO: Yes, but the ones who love the 20-ounce steak -- are they going to say, no, you’ve gone healthy on us, and they’re going to leave?

HILL: Neil, I don’t think so. It’s the most beautiful thing about America. It’s about choice. And I want you to know you can still get that 20-ounce porterhouse, and it’s going to be your choice whether you want the salad or not.

CAVUTO: All right. But, Lloyd, the reason why I asked is, you know, Kraft (KFT) has recently announced plans to start to nutritionally improve its food. McDonald’s (MCD) has these expanded salad offerings. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are doing much the same.

Are a lot of you guys fearing future litigation, although it happened to the tobacco industry, and that if you look like you’re vigilant in this regard there’s less likelihood of being sued.

HILL: That’s not our motive, Neil. Let me tell you how this started.

Over two years ago, Lou Kaucic’s sister, Vanessa Kaucic, went to eat in one of our restaurants, and she said, boy, I wish I had a little bit wider choice in your restaurant, and have you guys ever considered Weight Watchers.

So we contacted Weight Watchers over two years ago. So, again, it puts our choice here in the realm of real strategic marketing initiative with one of the world’s great brands.

CAVUTO: Are you afraid, though, that the industry has a bull’s-eye on it with all of these guys going after you?

HILL: No, I’m not afraid of that, Neil, because I think we’ve got to give Americans credit for more common sense than some of these special interest groups allow. I’m not concerned about that.

CAVUTO: All right. A very thin Lloyd Hill of Applebee’s, the president and CEO. Thank you, Lloyd. Appreciate it.

HILL: Thank you, Neil.

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