American burger chain Carl's Jr looks certain to open in Tauranga - but obesity and nutrition experts say there are already too many fast food outlets in the area.

Carl's Jr could not yet confirm a site for Tauranga but, with its intentions to open a burger restaurant in every major centre in New Zealand - 30 in total - it seems inevitable.

The chain's Asia-Pacific vice-president was in Tauranga last weekend searching for suitable properties.

"The roll-out will depend on the availability of good site locations. Nothing is confirmed in the Tauranga area at this stage, but rest assured Bay of Plenty residents will be the first to know," a Restaurant Brands spokesman told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.


The burger chain has already drawn criticism in Auckland for serving high-calorie meals but hit back, saying it provided low-calorie options and targeted "young, hungry guys".

The news comes just a week after Otago University researchers published a blacklist of 49 "needn't" foods as part of a treatment research programme for obesity.

On the blacklist were fried food, hot chips and mayonnaise - staples at fast food chains.

Anna Rolleston, director of the Cardiac Clinic and a nutritionist, believed it was a "cop-out" for fast food chains to say it was the individual's choice whether to eat there or not.

"There's a greater social problem than that. The problem is that we need services so we can teach people how easy it is to eat well [on a budget]."

While many chains offer "healthy choices" menus, Dr Rolleston said people did not go there for that reason.

"You don't go to McDonald's because you want to eat well.

"The thing about places like McDonald's and KFC is they are big, non-New Zealand corporates.

"What really annoys me is we could have some really high-quality food outlets that provide healthy food, New Zealand owned and operated, yet we have all these American takeaway joints ruining the health of our people."

Dr Rolleston believed such fast food outlets "played on the poor", who believed it was a cheaper way to eat than eating healthily.

That was not the case, but many low-income families did not know how to cook and buy cheap, healthy items.

Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman Robyn Toomath told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend she did not blame the fast food companies for operating their business. Instead, she wanted to see legislation put in place to control how many outlets operated in a community.

Local body authorities did not have the ability to limit permits for fast food outlets.

"New Zealand isn't really equipped to start dealing with reshaping the environment in a way to assist people to keep healthy. We don't have the right legislation.

"I don't really blame [the likes of] Burger King, because they are a business. That's their business, they have got to make money and return money to their shareholders.

"I don't have a beef with fast food outlets setting up, I have a beef that ... so far no government has been prepared to look at legislation around this."

Registered dietitian Rachel Scrivin, of FoodFX, said the density of fast food outlets was driven by consumer demand - but that didn't make it right.

"[Carl's Jnr] is obviously coming down here because there's the need for it, they have done their market research and will make money from it, which is a shame."

Mrs Scrivin said it was up to the individual to make a better choice.

"If you have health issues you need to consider: is that the best option?

"It's like smoking - you can't make people not smoke, they have highlighted the dangers and people still smoke even though they put the price up and up."

More fast food outlets meant increased temptation for those who were struggling to improve their diets, Mrs Scrivin said.

Her biggest concern was the high fat content of fast food, especially animal fat.

"I don't think the healthy options are all they are made out to be. They market them as flame grilled and healthy options but they usually have high calorie dressing and plenty of salt.

"[Healthy options] still entice people in there. Often they might buy one healthy option but have a side of soft drink or fries.

"Why would you go there [for a salad or wrap]. That's not their forte."

The cost of fast food was also a concern - it was quicker, cheaper and more nutritious to make a pizza at home than to order one.

Tauranga registered dietitian Fiona Boyle, of Food Solutions, said fried food, hot chips and mayonnaise were on the "needn't list" because they did not have much nutritional value.

"A lot of this fast food from takeaway places is going to be exceptionally high in fat and saturated fat, and really high in sodium. It's not a good choice."

A McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder, for example, has 50g of fat in one serving.

"That's close to three-quarters of what a person might be aiming to eat in fat in a day, and chances are you are going to add chips to that as well."

And at KFC, say no to the chips and instead choose potato and gravy or a bread roll - you could have 10 bread rolls for the same fat content as a large chips.

Customers have choice, say chains

Fast food chains say they are reacting to customer demands for healthy options.

Burger King marketing director Rachael Allison said customers needed balanced menu choices, so the chain provided a "lite options" menu featuring lower fat options.

The lite options menu was prominently displayed and promoted meals without fries and with water or low calorie beverages.

"Ultimately it is the customer who decides what and where to order from."

 A swap to a blend of sunflower and canola cooking oil had resulted in an 80 per cent reduction in the saturated fat content of their oil.

 A McDonald's spokeswoman said the chain was "constantly" evolving its menu to provide healthier options, due to customer demand.

Examples included the Weight Watchers-approved menu, healthy Happy Meal options for children, reducing sugar in buns by 40 per cent and changing to a low-saturated fat canola-based cooking oil.

McDonald's this week launched a new healthy choice option of choosing salad instead of fries with all combo meals, at no extra cost.

Carl's Jr Asia-Pacific vice-president Ian Letele said last week the chain provided low-calorie healthy options.

 These included a low carbohydrate burger sold without the buns and encasing the burger in lettuce.

KFC and Pizza Hut did not respond in time for publication.