With its never-ending pasta bowls and eternally refilling breadsticks, Olive Garden hasn’t always been the first franchise one would necessarily think of when it comes to healthier eating. But its parent company, Darden Restaurants Inc. – also owner of Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and Seasons 52 – would like to make a difference for the better. In a move that First Lady Michelle Obama has praised as a “breakthrough moment” for the restaurant industry, Darden has pledged to significantly cut the calories and sodium in meals across all of its brands.
Today, joined by both Obama and representatives from the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) at a Maryland Olive Garden location, Darden Restaurants Inc. President and COO Drew Madsen revealed the Darden Initiative (not to be confused with the DHARMA Initiative).
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This initiative details a pledge by the company to reduce its overall calorie and sodium footprint, with concrete plans to reduce calories and sodium in its brands’ meals by 10 percent by the year 2016, and by 20 percent within the next ten years. The company plans to reformulate recipes, resize portions, and work carefully with suppliers to help facilitate the process. In accordance with the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, attention will also be paid to kids’ menus, with fruits and vegetables trading places with French fries as the default side dish and 1 percent milk becoming the default beverage.
"As a company in constant anticipation of our guests' changing needs, this is a great opportunity for Darden to strengthen our relationships with our guests," said Clarence Otis, Darden Chairman and CEO. "Our commitment recognizes that they deserve greater choice and variety, and by putting our guests' desires first, we're putting our best foot forward as a company. And we're very proud of that."