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Pizza Hut Quietly Hops Off the All-Natural Bandwagon

It stands to reason that a restaurant chain that proclaims its entire menu is now going to be made with all-natural ingredients would be happy to provide an accessible list of all those wonderful, wholesome, un-fast food-like ingredients. But that's not the case at Pizza Hut (YUM).

In January 2009, the chain got considerable media attention for its announcement that it had boldly gone where no fast food restaurant had ventured before. "Pizza Hut is redefining quality in the pizza category," boasted president Scott Bergren. Gone were things like high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, nitrites and beef fillers. And in their place were "vine-ripened tomatoes," "Rustica sausage" and "fire-roasted red peppers."

At the same time, Pizza Hut said it was launching a new pizza called "The Natural", a confusing and seemingly redundant announcement given the other news. Nonetheless, it was greeted mostly with praise since, with whole grains in the crust, it looked like a nutritious addition to the standard pizza line-up.

But today there is no "Natural" pizza -- a worker at my local Hut said they hadn't been selling them since "sometime last year" -- and no way to get a list of the ingredients, natural or otherwise, in Pizza Hut's pizzas or any other menu item. It's a curious silence since Yum Brands' other restaurants KFC and Taco Bell offer up lists on their web sites, as do McDonald's (MCD) and Subway.

Has Pizza Hut switched back to some of its original -- and doubtless cheaper -- more artificial ingredients? We can only wonder. I phoned the Pizza Hut customer service number and asked a nice woman in the Philippines how I could get a list of Pizza Hut's all-natural ingredients. She said I would get an email, which has yet to arrive.

If Pizza Hut has backtracked or never really made the switch in the first place, I don't blame them for wanting to hide the fact. In the past, the company did, in fact, publish an ingredient list. One I printed out in 2004 and -- for some reason -- saved doesn't paint a pretty picture. There's modified food starch in the cheese, a foaming agent called dimethylpolysiloxane in the cheese breadsticks, potassium bromate in the garlic bread, eight dough conditioners in the pizza dough, potassium sorbate in some of the pizza sauce, and lots of artificial fillers in the meat toppings (textured soy protein concentrate, hydrolyzed soy, modified corn starch, etc.)

Not only does Pizza Hut's short-lived flirtation with natural look like a classic case of botched execution and ill-conceived marketing, but it speaks to a strange dichotomy in the food world. In large part, people want to buy healthy, wholesome foods at the supermarket, but when they go out to eat, they often really don't care about what may be lurking in that Triple Whopper or those Extreme Nachos.

Image by Flckr user arnold | inuyaki Addendum: Pizza Hut's customer service never got back to me, but a BNET reader in Canada was gracious enough to send along a list of ingredients from Canadian Pizza Huts. It features lots of natural ingredients in some areas, like the pizza crusts and tomato sauce, but the Canadian Hut is still using fillers in the meat toppings and the MSG stand-in autolyzed yeast extract in lots of the pasta dishes.

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