On Friday, Mars, Incorporated announced that it will remove all artificial colors from its human food products. Over the next 5 years, artificial colors will be phased out of the company's chocolate, gum, confection, food and drink businesses. The company asserts that artificial colors pose no risks to human health or safety, but that the change comes in response to consumer demand for the increased use of natural ingredients.
“Eliminating all artificial colors from our human food portfolio is a massive undertaking, and one that will take time and hard work to accomplish. Our consumers are the boss and we hear them. If it's the right thing to do for them, it's the right thing to do for Mars,” Mars President and CEO Grant F. Reid said.
The commitment follows similar pledges from other large food companies. Nestlé USA announced that it would be removing all artificial colors and flavors from its chocolate candy products by the end of 2015. 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.
Mars’ commitment does not apply to artificial flavors, but it does apply to all human food product segments, which include brands such as M&Ms, Skittles, Starburst, Life Savers, Wrigley, Extra, Juicy Fruit, and Uncle Ben's. In comparison, Nestlé’s commitment only applied to chocolate candy products, thereby excluding its other food brands such as Boost, Coffee-Mate, Lean Cuisine, Nescafé, Nestea, and Stouffer’s. General Mills’ commitments do not cover its Pillsbury, Old El Paso, Chex, Nature Valley, Yoplait, or other food brands that are not cereals or fruit snacks. Whether these products contain artificial colors and flavors is indicated in the list of ingredients on their labels – product formulations can vary by country or continent. In fairness, all three companies have always had products made without artificial colors or flavors.
General Mills’ changes were prompted by the results of a survey: In 2014, Nielsen conducted research on behalf of General Mills and found that 49 percent of households are making an effort to avoid artificial colors and flavors from artificial sources. Natural color and flavor company Kalsec claims that the percentage is even higher for families: Its consumer study from early 2015 showed that more than 80 percent of parents in the U.S. and U.K. with a child between the ages of 3 and 12 are more likely to purchase a food product for their children if it contains a naturally-sourced color instead of a synthetic color, and 70 percent indicated they would be willing to pay a premium.
The trend in demand for natural ingredients also extends to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which despite being deemed safe by the food companies using them, have raised concern. As a result, Campbell Soup recently pledged to disclose the potential presence of genetically-engineered ingredients on all labels across the U.S.