Have you ever had Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt? Thanks to the Wendy’s gift cards that my cousin gave my boys for Christmas, I have, and they were awful. Even my boys, who had been trying to convince me to let them try them for a while because they contained the word “natural” in them, thought Wendy’s new fries were bad.

Just what is natural about these fries anyway? Turns out, not much. Yahoo! Finance spelled it out last week, reporting that Wendy’s CEO Ken Calwell said that making the fries all-natural instead of just putting “natural” in their title wouldn’t sit well with “fast-food customers' demands for items that are cheap and can be hoisted through a car window.”

Now, before anyone freaks out and says, “Of course, he blames it on the consumer,” I’d like to point to something I saw last week. On “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” Oliver found an independent fast-food restaurant owner who was willing to have Oliver make suggestions for creating menu items with better ingredients. When he revamped a burger with good beef and let a customer taste test the “good beef” burger vs. the restaurant's regular burger, the customer like the good beef burger much better. But, when the customer was told that the burger he liked would cost $2 more than the other burger, the customer said he’d buy the cheaper burger, even though he knew the ingredients weren’t as good.

So when Wendy’s CEO says customers want food that’s cheap, I don’t blame him for telling the truth.

Okay, back to the fries. Where does the natural come in? It comes in when the potatoes are cut with their natural skins still on. That’s it. To quote the article

The fries are sprayed with sodium acid pyrophosphate, a chemical that prevents them from turning brown from two baths in frying oil — one at the factory and the other at the store. They're also dusted with dextrose, a sugar derived from corn, for similar purposes.

And just like every other large fast-food chain, Wendy's frying oil is dosed with dimethylpolysiloxane, a silicone-based chemical that helps keep the vegetable oil from getting foamy after countless rounds of frying.
Throughout the Yahoo article, the process of creating Wendy’s fries is compared to the process that Five Guys uses with its fries, which are never frozen and only fried once but cost much more.

Right now, Wendy’s is advertising that its fries beat McDonald’s fries in a taste test (a test that Wendy’s conducted through an outside firm). I didn’t participate in this taste test, but I’ve had McDonald’s fries and I’ve had Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt. I wouldn’t really want to eat either of them anymore, but if I had to choose, I’d choose McDonald’s.

Calwell says Wendy’s will be making its product lines “closer to this real ingredients story” one at a time. I think it’s fitting that he uses the word story. Consumers are believing fiction if they think that because the word natural is in the title of the fries, they’re consuming something healthier.

As consumers we need to be smart and question food that gets labeled as natural, especially when it’s coming from a conventional fast-food restaurant. If fast-food consumers don’t want their menu prices to go up — and the evidence is there that they don’t — then fast-food companies are not going to use better, more expensive ingredients in their products. They’re just going to use advertising that they hope will fool us into thinking they are. 

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