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Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are removing artificial ingredients from many menu items

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Coming soon to a Taco Bell near you: Artificial-ingredient-free breakfast burritos.
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Following in the footsteps of competitors like Panera Bread Company, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Subway, two of Yum! Brands’ flagship fast-food chains, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, have announced the removal of a number of controversial ingredients from some of their menu items.

Taco Bell says it’s getting rid of artificial colors and flavors, along with high-fructose corn syrup and palm oil, by the end of the year. It also will take artificial preservatives out “where possible,” it says, by 2017. Pizza Hut, meanwhile, says it’s taking artificial flavors and colors out of its nationally available pizzas in the US by the end of July.

As American tastes change, and as upstarts like Chipotle and Shake Shack meet the newer demands, old-school fast-food restaurants are racing to keep pace. ”You don’t get the honor of being America’s leading pizza brand without consistently keeping up with the changing needs of today’s consumers,” Pizza Hut CEO David Gibbs said in a statement.

And those needs, according to Gibbs, now include an understanding of “the ingredients that make up the foods that they enjoy.”

The trend has driven McDonald’s to announce that its US locations will only serve chicken raised without antibiotics. That announcement, which came in May, followed a first-quarter sales drop of 2.6% for US stores open at least a year. Subway, also looking to pull out of a sales slump, took azodicarbonamide—aka the yoga-mat chemical—out of its bread last year, after activists called for its removal. It also has “quietly subtracted” two flavor enhancers, disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate, from its chicken marinade, Bloomberg reported in March.

Pizza Hut and Taco Bell’s cheese- and grease-filled menu items hardly count as health food, but Yum hasn’t been under the same degree of sales pressure. Pizza Hut sales have been running essentially flat, and Taco Bell’s first-quarter same-store revenue grew 6% year-over-year. But chains like these, as well as Panera, which took 150-plus ingredients off its menu earlier this month, aren’t waiting for a downward spiral in sales to act on what they see as a marked shift in taste. Chipotle experienced huge sales growth in 2014—27.6%—and still removed GMOs from its menu.

Just as Chipotle’s GMO-free announcement came with some caveats (its sodas, for example, will still have GMOs), so do Pizza Hut and Taco Bell’s. At Taco Bell, for example, sodas and co-branded menu items like Doritos Locos Tacos, are outside the purview of the change.

The photograph above was taken by Mike Mozart and shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. It has been cropped.

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