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Consumer Concerns Lead Changes in Food Ingredients

Consumer interest in fresher, more natural foods is stimulating the food industry to modify or eliminate certain product ingredients. In January 2015, Nielsen published the results of their Global Health & Wellness Survey, highlighting the global push towards healthier eating and increased transparency to ingredients and food sources. The We Are What We Eat report noted:

“The most desirable attributes are foods that are fresh, natural and minimally processed. Foods with all natural ingredients and those without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are each considered very important to 43% of global respondents—the highest percentages of the 27 attributes included in the study. In addition, about four-in-10 global respondents say the absence of artificial colors (42%) and flavors (41%) and foods made from vegetables/fruits (40%) are very important.”

Restaurants and consumer products companies are listening to consumer concerns; many have announced voluntary sourcing, menu and ingredient changes over the past few months.

For instance, in April, Chipotle announced that they had officially removed GMOs from their menu, after promising customers the change two years prior. The chain, which used to use genetically modified corn and soy to make their tortillas, is now the first national restaurant to cook solely with non-GMO ingredients. In May, Panera Bread became the first national restaurant chain to provide a list of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that would no longer be included in their food. Panera CEO Ron Shaich said that the company’s 150-ingredient “No No” list is the “latest step on our journey to clean food and a transparent menu.”

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are also moving away from artificial ingredients. Both restaurants owned by Yum! Brands announced in May that they plan to phase out artificial flavors and colors from their foods. Taco Bell Chief Food Innovation Officer Liz Matthews said that the decision was made to address consumers’ demands to see what’s in their food. However, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Yum! Brands’ other chain, has not publicly announced the removal of any ingredients from its menu.

From a consumer products standpoint, earlier this year Hershey’s revealed that it was also transitioning to simple and straightforward ingredients that have “thoughtful and responsible sourcing”. The day before Hershey’s disclosure, Nestle communicated its commitment to remove artificial colors and flavors from all of its chocolate and candy products in the United States. Kraft shared similar plans to remove artificial dyes and coloring from its macaroni and cheese—known for its infamous orange hue—due to claims from both critics and consumers that the dyes are unhealthy.

Similarly, General Mills has promised consumers that it will remove artificial colors from famous cereal brands like Trix, Reese’s Puffs and Lucky Charms, though it may cause a noticeable difference in their appearance. Soon after this announcement, they unveiled a new host of healthier products with simpler ingredients. By the end of 2016, the company aims for 90 percent of its products to be free of artificial ingredients.

As consumers call for more natural foods and improved ingredient transparency, legislators have been working to address the issue at the state and national level. With states, like Vermont, enacting or considering laws that require companies to label genetically modified foods, the debate between industry and consumer groups has intensified.

In mid-July, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which was co-sponsored by Representatives Mike Pompeo and G.K. Butterfield. The Act passed the House with a 275-150 vote last week (July 23, 2015), and now awaits review by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.