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Big Food’s Hesitation on Natural Colors

Big Food


Big Food refers to large, multinational food and beverage companies. That dominates the market, influencing food production, distribution and consumption on a global scale. These conglomerates often prioritize efficiency and profit. Sometimes at the expense of environmental sustainability and public health, leading to criticism and calls for more responsible practices.

The ongoing debate surrounding the use of artificial colors in food products has taken center stage. With major food manufacturers expressing intentions to shift towards natural alternatives. Mars, General Mills, and Kellogg are among the giants who have publicly committed to this change, although the journey has been anything but straightforward.

Big Promises from Big Food

Mars’ Bold Commitment

On February 5, 2016, Mars, Incorporated announced a daring pledge: to eliminate artificial colors from its entire food portfolio within five years. Home to iconic brands such as Skittles, Starburst, and M&Ms, this was no small feat. CEO Grant F. Reid emphasized the significance of consumer preference, stating, “If it’s the right thing to do for them, it’s the right thing to do for Mars.”

General Mills and Kellogg on the Same Path

In June 2015, General Mills committed to removing artificial colors and flavors from all its cereals, targeting 90% completion by the end of 2016. Kellogg followed suit in August 2015, aiming to eradicate artificial colors and flavors from its cereals and other products by 2019. Both initiatives were in line with global consumer trends, with a January 2015 Nielsen report indicating that 42% of consumers worldwide, but only 29% in North America, prioritized products without artificial colors.

Stalled Progress and Unmet Goals

Despite these ambitious promises, the reality has been less colorful. The deadlines came and went, but the vibrancy of products like Froot Loops and Apple Jacks remained reliant on synthetic dyes. Research contradicted initial beliefs, showing consumers were less averse to artificial colors than anticipated. Natural colors, while preferable, did not offer the same performance and vibrancy, leading to consumer reluctance.

The Push for Change and the Reality of Consumer Preferences

Consumer advocates argue the demand for fewer artificial colors is real and pressing. Lisa Lefferts from the Center for Science in the Public Interest expresses disappointment, highlighting a belief that these commitments were achievable. The discrepancy between consumer desire for natural ingredients and their expectations for product vibrancy presents a challenge for manufacturers, necessitating innovation in natural coloring solutions.

The Future of Food Coloring: A Balancing Act

The journey toward natural colors in big food products is complex. Requiring a delicate balance between consumer expectations, product performance and commitment to sustainability. As the industry navigates these waters, the push for transparency and clean labels continues to shape the future of food coloring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Why did Mars, General Mills and Kellogg decide to switch to natural colors?

These big food companies pledged to switch to natural colors in response to growing consumer demand for clean labels and products free from artificial ingredients.

Q2: Did these companies achieve their goals of eliminating artificial colors?

No, none of these companies met their original goals within the set deadlines, and many of their products still contain artificial colors.

Q3: What challenges are associated with transitioning to natural colors in food products?

Natural colors often do not provide the same vibrancy and performance as artificial colors. Which can lead to consumer reluctance and affect sales.

Q4: Is there a real consumer demand for food products without artificial colors?

Yes, consumer advocates and reports indicate a significant portion of consumers worldwide prefer products without artificial colors. However, there is a challenge in balancing this preference with expectations for product appearance and performance.

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