KFC Corporation, owner of the Kentucky Fried Chicken national restaurant chain, has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it made false claims in a national television advertising campaign about the relative nutritional value and healthiness of its fried chicken. The Commission also charged the company with making false claims that its fried chicken is compatible with certain popular weight-loss programs. The proposed settlement will prohibit the company from making these or similar claims about the nutritional value, weight-loss benefits, or other health benefits of its chicken products and meals unless the company can substantiate the claims.
KFC Corporation is based in Louisville, Kentucky, and is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc.
“Today’s action signals food advertisers that the FTC will not tolerate misleading advertisements to consumers who are trying to eat healthier and watch their weight,” warned FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris. “More than ever before, today’s consumers need truthful information about diet and health in food marketing. Consumers want healthier menu options, and many of the national fast food chains are responding. For consumers to obtain healthier choices, we must make sure that companies promote their products honestly,” added Chairman Muris.
The FTC’s complaint charged KFC with making false claims that eating KFC fried chicken, specifically two Original Recipe fried chicken breasts, is better for a consumer’s health than eating a Burger King Whopper. One ad featured a woman putting a bucket of KFC fried chicken down in front of her husband and announcing, “Remember how we talked about eating better? Well, it starts today!” The ad then states that “Two KFC breasts have less fat than a BK Whopper.” Although it is true that the two fried chicken breasts have slightly less total fat and saturated fat than a Whopper, they have more than three times the trans fat and cholesterol, more than twice the sodium, and more calories.
A second ad, the complaint charges, falsely claims that eating KFC fried chicken is compatible with “low carbohydrate” weight-loss programs. The ad depicts a man surprised when he recognizes a friend who is sitting on the tailgate of a truck eating KFC fried chicken. “Jack?” the first asks, “Is that you? Man, you look fantastic! What the heck you been doing!?” “Eatin’ chicken,” Jack replies. The announcer states, “One Original Recipe chicken breast has just 11 grams of carbohydrates and packs 40 grams of protein. So if you’re watching carbs and going high-protein, go KFC.” The claim is false, the FTC says, because “low carbohydrate” weight- loss programs such as the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet specifically advise against eating breaded, fried foods.
“The FTC is not endorsing any particular diet program. Consumers should choose an approach to managing their weight that works for them. But they cannot succeed if they make choices based on bad information,” said Chairman Muris.
The settlement prohibits KFC from claiming that eating its fried chicken is better for a consumer’s health than eating a Burger King Whopper, or that its fried chicken is compatible with “low-carbohydrate” weight-loss programs, unless it substantiates the claim with competent and reliable evidence, including scientific evidence when appropriate. The settlement also prohibits KFC from making any other claim about the amount of fat or other nutrients in its chicken products; the compatibility of its chicken products with any weight-loss program; or any other health benefit, unless the company substantiates the claim with competent and reliable evidence, including scientific evidence when appropriate. The settlement includes provisions allowing KFC to make certain claims that comply with specific Food and Drug Administration food-labeling regulations. Finally, the settlement contains various recordkeeping requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring compliance.
The FTC has been engaged on several fronts to improve access to information about the calorie content and other health consequences of the foods consumers eat. For example, the FTC has provided its support to FDA’s food labeling initiative on qualified health claims, which affords food companies more flexibility to discuss emerging areas of nutrition research. And, as part of a government-wide effort to combat the nation’s rising obesity rates, the FTC also has joined forces with the Food and Drug Administration to create regulatory policies that will ensure that food labels offer accurate and more complete information about the calorie content of foods.
In applauding the March 2004 announcement of FDA’s Obesity Working Group Report, “Calories Count,” Chairman Muris stated, “As food companies create lower-calorie, healthier options for consumers, they should be able to communicate these improvements to the consumer. At the same time, we will police the marketplace to ensure the information is truthful, accurate, and not misleading.”
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0, with Commissioners Pamela Jones Harbour and Mozelle W. Thompson issuing separate statements. In her statement, Commissioner Harbour said, “ I concur with the Commission’s admirable results in obtaining strong injunctive relief, and I applaud staff for bringing a national advertising case. I believe, however, that an even stronger remedy is warranted. KFCC is fully aware of our nation’s struggle with obesity, yet has cynically attempted to exploit a massive health problem through deceptive advertising. Companies should not be allowed to benefit monetarily from this kind of deception, especially where the health and safety of consumers are compromised. Therefore, I encourage the Commission to find ways to seek monetary relief in future cases like this one.” In his statement, Commissioner Thompson said, “I have voted to accept the consent agreement with KFC Corp. in this matter and I concur with Commissioner Harbour’s statement.”
An announcement regarding the proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, until July 2, 2004, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the proposed consent agreement, complaint, and analysis to aid in public comment are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. 042-3033)