A recent poll of over 4,000 shoppers reveals the power of 'natural' and why so many food companies have announced their timelines to remove artificial ingredients from their food.
Food Navigator breaks it down for us - Nearly 80 percent of surveyed shoppers said they'd view a product more favorably if they removed artificial ingredients; three-quarters said they'd be more likely to buy it. At the same time, nearly 70 percent said that the company making the product affects whether they're likely to purchase a particular product with consumers trusting small, independent companies over large, established companies.
That said, large food companies - from manufacturers to retailers - are listening. It seems like every day my clips have another announcement from another company stating their timeline for removing artificial ingredients.
Here are the big ones -
Chipotle - They have led in this area, with multiple announcements about the food they source. Check out this site they launched in July. They compare themselves to other companies, claiming they do more, and do it better.
Nestle - Announced in February that it will remove artificial flavors and FDA-certified colors, like Red 40 and Yellow 5, from all of its chocolate candy products by the end of 2015. The company plans to replace the artificial colors and flavors with ingredients from natural sources.
Hershey - Announced in February that it will use "only ingredients that people understand: milk, sugar, vanilla, etc. Both the milk chocolate bar and Kisses will have “clean labels” by the end of the year."
Taco Bell - Announced in May that it plans to get rid of artificial flavors and colors by the end of the year. Will apply to about 95% of the menu.
Panera - Announced in May that it plans to get rid of more than 150 food additives by the end of 2016.
Pizza Hut - Announced that it would get rid of artificial coloring and flavors from almost all pizzas except a few local offerings by the end of July, 2015.
Subway - Announced in June that it plans to remove artificial flavors, colors and preservatives from its food in North America by 2017.
General Mills - Announced in June that it will remove artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources from those General Mills cereals still containing these ingredients. The company is aiming for 75 percent by January, 2016 and 90 percent by end of 2016. Side note, but if you click on any announcements, click on this one. Check out the company's video and blog.
Kellogg - Announced in August that it will discontinue use of artificial ingredients in its cereals and other products by 2018.
Noodles & Co. - Announced this week that the company is removing all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners from its core menu items.
Aldi - Announced last week that by the end of the year all of its branded products, which make up about 90 percent of its offerings, will be free of synthetic colors, partially hydrogenated oils, and added MSG.
Clearly the push for simpler ingredients and real food is resonating. When we look at the list above, we see just how much consumers can affect change.
A few things to remember, though:
FDA defines the term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring to mean "any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof. Artificial flavor includes the substances listed in 172.515(b) and 582.60 of this chapter except where these are derived from natural sources.
FDA does NOT define natural. So for a company that wants to market themselves as clean label, natural, etc. it's often all too easy and sometimes no more than a bumper sticker slogan. According to the Environmental Working Group, "What is missing from the discussion about ingredients is the fact that “natural and artificial flavors really aren’t that different....The actual chemicals in these two kinds of flavors may be exactly the same: The chemical structures of the individual molecules may be indistinguishable.”
Not all processing is bad (it's been around for ages and can help preserve food and is often used for food safety reasons).
Many ingredients CAN be phased out, particularly synthetic food dyes.
Just because a food gets rid of artificial ingredients and/or flavors certainly doesn't convey healthfulness. Keep an eye on the nutrition information like sugar, salt and fat!