Allina Health System wants to deep-six its deep-fat fryers and eliminate sugary soft drinks, too.
The hospital operator announced the goals internally Friday, saying Allina wants to change vending machines and cafeterias in ways that will promote and maintain health in communities.
“Allina has made the decision to work toward eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages in our facilities and deep-fat fryers in our cafeterias,” wrote Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina’s chief executive, in a Friday memo to employees. “These are simple environmental changes that have been proven to make a significant difference in health.”
The McDonald’s at Allina’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital in south Minneapolis, however, is expected to stay.
Bloomington-based HealthPartners announced plans earlier this year to reduce sugary drinks. Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services announced plans last year to promote healthier options in cafeterias and vending.
Industries affected say they understand why health care groups are making changes but are wary of the trend.
“There’s still a need for indulgence in the marketplace,” said Charlie Souhrada, director of member services for the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers, the trade group for firms that make commercial food service equipment.
In 2013, the group estimated about $400 million worth of North American sales for all types of fryers, including pressure fryers for chicken, “multiple” fryers often seen in fast-food restaurants and doughnut fryers. While there’s anecdotal evidence of health care groups, schools and correctional facilities dropping fat fryers, Souhrada said the trade group doesn’t think the trend is hurting sales overall.
Consumption of carbonated soft drinks has declined 14 percent, according to Beverage Digest, from 10.2 billion cases in 2004 to 8.8 billion cases last year. The move to lower-calorie drinks has been a factor, said Duane Stanford, editor of the industry newsletter.
Tim Wilkin of the Minnesota Beverage Association said soft drink manufacturers have responded to health concerns by trying to provide consumers with more size options and more drinks with lower calorie counts.
“I’m comforted that it’s more part of an overall strategy — that they’re not singling us out,” Wilkin said of the plans at Allina.
Many details of the changes at Allina have not been worked out, said Dr. Courtney Baechler of the health system’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.
It’s not clear when sugary drinks will stop being available at Allina, but eliminating the beverages is the goal, Baechler said. Workers and visitors can bring sugary drinks with them to the hospital or clinic, if they desire.
Allina operates 13 hospitals, and many larger hospital cafeterias have deep-fat fryers. The timeline for removing fryers is not yet clear, either.
If you’re an Allina visitor who just loves the occasional Coke and fries, you’ll still have one option even with the changes. Spokesman David Kanihan said fried foods and sugary soft drinks will still be available at the McDonald’s that operates inside Abbott Northwestern.
“A task force has been created to make sure we implement this change thoughtfully and respectfully,” wrote Wheeler in her memo. “We face a myriad of challenges, from an individual’s right to make their own health choices to the complex, long-term contract with McDonald’s at Abbott Northwestern.
“More information about the transition to offering healthier options in all of our facilities will be shared as the committee develops its implementation plan.”