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As food and beverage manufacturers respond to rising concerns over the use of synthetic dyes, sales of natural colorants are expected to soon surpass those of artificial versions. But making the switch to natural can be difficult and costly.
Thanks to the Brits, U.S. grocery aisles are poised to become a little less colorful.
Eight months after the European Commission began requiring warning labels on food products containing certain food dyes and essentially forcing reformulation, food manufacturers are eyeing the brewing food-dye controversy in the America with concern and rolling out new products void of color or made with more subdued natural alternatives.
In August 2010, Pepperidge Farm announced it had reformulated its Goldfish Colors and Goldfish Colors Neon, replacing the FD & C reds and blues that had colored the products with beet, paprika, turmeric and watermelon extracts. The world’s largest snack maker, Frito-lay, followed suit in January of this year by announcing it had revamped its offerings to make 50 percent “all natural”—which means no artificial colors. The company now offers Sun Chips colored with Paprika and White Cheddar Cheetoes free of neon orange stain. Yoplait’s new “Simply Go-gurt” is notably free of the Technicolor dyes in its conventional tubes. Even the confectionary industry has jumped on board, with New England-based Necco Wafers rolling out candies colored with red beets, purple cabbage and cocoa powder.
Matt Incles, market intelligence manager for U.K.-based Leatherhead Food Research, says the Southhampton studies (which drew a link between six commonly used dyes and ADHD) had a “severe” impact on food companies operating in Europe. “The pressure came down from consumers and retailers to change their ingredients almost overnight,” Incles says. He believes a similar scenario is in store in the United States, as consumers, then retailers and ultimately government puts the screws to companies using petroleum-based dyes such as Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6 and Blue 1. (Whole Foods and Trader Joes already refuse to carry them).
But Incles and others warn that switching from artificial to natural coloring is “incredibly difficult and quite costly,” and that both manufacturers and consumers are in for a change.
“Not only are companies expected to reformulate their products, but they are expected to produce them at the same standards of quality and the same cost as they did before,” Incles says. “In some cases, that’s just not possible with natural colors. Consumers might look at a new ice cream and it just doesn’t look as bright as it used to. That puts people off.”