Updated to include comments from McDonald's.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Fast-food companies are on a mission recently to convince customers their food is healthier -- or at least, not so unhealthy.
Tuesday, Yum! Brands (YUM)-owned Taco Bell joined the growing ranks of fast-food chains moving toward using fewer artificial ingredients. Taco Bell said it will remove artificial colors, artificial flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and palm oil from its food by the end of 2015. Artificial preservatives will be also be eliminated "where possible" by 2017.
The moves do not include fountain drinks from supplier PepsiCo (PEP) or co-branded products, such as its Doritos-flavored taco shells.
Fellow Yum! Brands holding Pizza Hut also said it will remove artificial colors and flavors from its pizzas by the end of July. The pizza chain is in the midst of better catering to millennials with a hipper menu to help bolster sagging U.S. sales.
The use of artificial ingredients in fast food has been essential to the fast food industry since its inception. They help to preserve food destined for mass consumption and reduce complexity in the kitchen so that food can be made quickly. Consequently the recent announcements from the industry's heavyweights could lead to higher costs and price increases on economically sensitive customers.
But the demand by consumers for greater transparency in the broader food industry has created a need for the fast-food business to evolve. "I would say that 2015 may be the year where we have the biggest conversation ever about the quality of food and about what it means to our physical health," said Whole Foods (WFM) co-CEO Walter Robb in an interview last year. "It's not an elite thing, but it's actually something that is an American thing -- It comes up because McDonald's (MCD) and Yum! Brands have finally realized their stuff isn't selling anymore," added Robb.
Turns out Robb was right.
The new industry trend is for supporting "clean ingredients," and the payoff for adapting to changing consumer preferences could be huge.
Upstart fast-casual pizza chain Blaze Pizza, which prides itself on using ingredients people can actually pronounce, is a good example.
According to the 66-store company, its average sales per store last year of $1.55 million were the highest in the U.S. fast-food pizza business, with Pizza Hut a distant second at $730,000. Blaze Pizza restaurants with over two years of operation have experienced a 40.6% year-over-year gain in sales in their second year.
"We look strongly at what Panera Bread and Chipotle are doing, and have been on our journey to making sure our ingredients are clean -- no preservatives, no chemicals, no additives," said Blaze Pizza president and COO Jim Mizes in an interview.
TheStreet takes a look at how three other giant fast-food companies are trying to capitalize on the latest trend and clean up their ingredient acts.