General Mills recently announced over 60 percent of its cereals are free of artificial flavors and colors. That includes iconic cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and original Cheerios. The food company giant is committed to removing artificial ingredients from all of its cereals. It will remove them in increments. The goal is 90 percent by the end of 2016 and 100 percent by the end of 2017.
I talked to several people from General Mills to find out why they are removing artificial flavors and colors from their cereals. Lauren Pradhan, Wellness Marketing Manager, General Mills told me that the company has been working on removing artificial ingredients for three years. Consumers have prompted the change.
“We have been listening to consumers, parents, families and we’ve been hearing more and more that this was something they were concerned about in their cereal,” said Pradhan. “Then we did a study with Nielsen that showed us 49 percent of households are consciously avoiding artificial flavors and colors.”
Pradhan said that General Mills talked to parents and listened to them. The desire to avoid artificial flavors and colors kept coming up. “It really was about listening to mom’s and parents,” she explained. “It’s really about meeting the needs of our consumers and what they’re looking for in their cereals.”
She is a mother of a two-year-old and heard from her friends about what they wanted and did not want in their cereals. “So, we sorted triangulated this from a lot of different places and knew this is a change we wanted to make,” she told me. “We’ve been working on it for three years and looked at hundreds of different types of ingredients and hundreds of bowls of different cereals to get to recipes we felt really confident about. We were at a point now where we felt good about announcing our commitment.”
When I asked if the work at General Mills to remove artificial ingredients would start a trend, she answered, “I think that the interest consumers have about what’s in their food is more than likely not going away.” In other words, it is likely that more companies will make similar commitments.
What about the replacements for artificial flavors and colors. Pradhan told me General Mills will be using fruit and vegetable extracts. For example, instead of using red 40 to get a red color, General Mills will be using strawberries, blueberries and radishes. It isn’t always easy to find suitable replacements. “It takes time because you have to find the combination to get the colors that we want but not impact the taste,” she said.
Taste is really important, as Mike Siemienas, Brand Media Relations Manager, General Mills told me. For that reason, it takes time to replace artificial ingredients. “None of it happens quickly,” Siemienas said. For that reason, General Mills conducts many taste tests with consumers. “We need to make sure our products are in line with what consumers are looking for,” he said.
[Editor’s Note: If you want to eliminate unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives from your diet for good, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]
Image via Y’amal