While household names such as Mars, General Mills, Kellogg and Kraft Foods acknowledge the need to meet consumer expectations, the majority of food and drink companies have yet to rise to the challenge - and opportunities - of reformulating with natural colours.
Analysts at Mintel point to the US cereal market as a good example of the slow pace of change.
According to Mintel’s research only 10% of cereals launched in the US since January 2013 make an all-natural claim on pack.
Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight at Mintel, told FoodNavigator: "As consumers voice their demand for ‘cleaner’ labels, manufacturers are responding. Artificial flavours and colours have come under scrutiny, and manufacturers are swapping out chemical-derived dyes with colours derived from fruits and vegetables, while also swapping chemical-derived flavours with natural ones.”
A long way to go
However, Mogelonsky added that, while some companies work at reformulating cereals so that they will contain only natural colours and flavours, the current market is still rife with products that use artificial ingredients for these purposes.
She said: “Only 10% of cereals launched in the US since January 2013 make an all-natural claim on pack, while 18% claim no additives or preservatives, suggesting that in the universe of cereal, manufacturers have a way to go before they effectively remove unnatural ingredients from all cereals.”
The shift away from artificial colours comes at a time when manufacturers are scrambling to improve cereal quality in the face of a shrinking – and more demanding – consumer base. In the past decade, manufacturers have changed cereal formulations to include wholegrains and more fiber, find GMO-free sources, and gravitate towards popular diet trends including low fat, high protein and gluten-free.
Lauren Pradhan, wellness marketing manager at General Mills, acknowledged that the company’s drive to remove artificial ingredients had been largely driven by consumer demand.
She said: “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.
“Then we did a study with Nielsen that showed us 49 percent of households are consciously avoiding artificial flavours and colours."
Kellogg also recently announced its commitment to remove artificial colours and flavours from Froot Loops, Apple Jacks and other branded cereals by 2018.
The company said the move is part of its ongoing efforts to restore growth in its cereal business, which has struggled in recent years from weaker consumer demand.
Kellogg said it also plans to remove artificial colours and flavours from some of its snack bars and Eggo frozen products.
“We know consumers are looking for foods with simpler ingredients, and work is well under way to answer that call,” said Paul Norman, president of Kellogg North America.
“Already in North America, 75% of our cereals are made without artificial colours, and more than half are made without artificial flavours.”
Outside the cereal sector, Kraft Foods announced that it is revamping its family-friendly macaroni and cheese meal by removing synthetic colours and preservatives from the popular boxed dinner.
The move comes at a time when Kraft is battling sluggish demand as consumers shift to brands that are perceived as healthier, including foods that are organic or less processed.
Kraft spokeswoman Lynne Galia said the changes were being made to address concerns expressed by consumers, including demands for improved nutrition and “simpler ingredients.”
Last year FoodNavigator reported how consumer demand for natural colours in the US is nearing "a tipping point" as parents concerns increase about the potential impact on children’s health of artificial colours and more natural options become available.
About 80 % of US and UK parents of 3 - 12 year olds said they were concerned about the use of synthetic colours in food and beverages for children, according to a survey of more than 1,000 US and UK parents conducted by the colour and flavour company Kalsec.