Trans fats have had a high profile over the course of the last year, along with other criticisms of our national dietary habits. Trans fats are oils that have been chemically altered in order to extend the shelf life of baked goods, among other things. The health downside is that these oils have been found to raise "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol.
Last summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the organization that also took aim at Yum Brands'
Last week, I wrote about what seems to be a growing trend to ban things in the public interest, and I'm sure nobody missed the fact that New York City decided to ban trans fats from its restaurant menus, effective this summer. (This move prompted us to come up with a humorous rundown of the top 10 other things New York might ban.) However, given the fact that companies are responding to the health concerns voluntarily, and given the public's growing awareness and the media attention, more bans seem to me to be overkill, although there are other jurisdictions that are considering similar moves.
Of course, the truth is, there are a lot of Starbucks outlets in Manhattan -- fellow Fool Chuck Saletta pointed out in September that there were more than 100 Starbucks within a five-mile radius of the Empire State Building alone. And New York City, of course, is one of the regions where the substance is already cleared out of the stores (others include Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Portland; Boston; Philadelphia; San Francisco; San Diego; Los Angeles; and Chicago).
It's clear that regardless of where the pressure against trans fats came from, the pressure did arrive. As I've made clear in the past, I'm not a big fan of bans that pressure citizens to modify their behavior instead of allowing them to simply make their own educated decisions about what they consume. But the reality is, Starbucks shareholders should be glad the company is addressing what could have been an increasingly sticky situation for public opinion and, of course, sales.