Kraft Heinz followed through on its promise to remove artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes from its iconic macaroni and cheese – three months ago. In what the company is calling “the world’s largest ‘blind taste test,’” Kraft Mac & Cheese quietly changed its recipe and the ingredients listed on the box in December, and sold over 50 million boxes before making a formal announcement about it.
This week, the company launched a major integrated marketing campaign highlighting that virtually no one noticed the new recipe, because “It’s changed. But it hasn’t.” The campaign’s television ads feature former Daily Show and Late, Late Show host Craig Kilborn, who proclaims that the results are in: moms, kids and even dogs tried the new recipe without detecting a difference.
“When we say virtually 'no one noticed' the change, this is based on the continued steady sales of the product, focus groups, and minimal consumer activity calling out the differences in the recipe on social media during the world’s largest 'blind taste test,'" he said. "The changes have been listed in the ingredient line on the box since we quietly rolled out the change in December, but we wanted fans to experience the new recipe for themselves without being prompted.
“Based on all our focus groups and taste tests up to this point, and the fact that over 50 million fans have been eating our new recipe for the past few months, we are confident they will continue to embrace the new recipe now that they know 'it’s changed, but it hasn’t.'”
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Kraft Heinz announced it would remove artificial dyes from all its macaroni and cheese products by 2016 in April 2015, following public pressure, including a Change.org petition signed by over 365,000 individuals. The petitioners were particularly concerned about Kraft’s use of Yellow 5 (labeled as Tartrazine) in the company’s US and Canadian products. Yellow 5 and 6 have been replaced with paprika, annatto and turmeric – maintaining the product’s signature color. The new recipe also contains no artificial flavors nor preservatives.
Food giants have repeatedly defended the safety of artificial colors, but several have committed to eliminating them from their products due to consumer demand. In February 2015, Nestlé USA announced that it would be removing all artificial colors and flavors from its chocolate candy products by the end of the year; General Mills committed to remove artificial colors and flavors from its cereals by the end of 2016 and from its fruit snacks by the end of 2017; and most recently, Mars announced it will remove all artificial colors from its entire human food portfolio over the next 5 years. Mars’ CEO Grant F. Reid said it would be “a massive undertaking,” and pundits noted the challenges Mars would face in finding natural alternatives for food items with rather ‘unnatural’ colors, such as blue M&Ms.
Kraft’s ability to replicate the iconic taste and color of its Mac & Cheese makes a great case for other companies to follow suit and make similar efforts. Consumers’ reaction – or the lack thereof – is a great signifier for companies that may be unconvinced they can make their products healthier without compromising on taste.
When asked if the change would translate to other Kraft Heinz products, Guidotti told Sustainable Brands that he could not speculate on what the company may do in the future, but noted it is in the process of removing artificial preservatives from Kraft Singles and Oscar Meyer Selects.
Guidotti added, “I can only tell you how we approached a change like this. We continuously listen to our consumers about their changing lifestyles. We spend a lot of time listening to them through research and visiting with them in stores and in homes, and parents said they want to feel good about the foods they eat and serve their families.
“We knew we landed on the right recipe when fans couldn’t tell a difference … and still loved every bite.”