Holly Henschen, Editor
Aquick Google search of “food additives” yields first-page results including the terms “avoid,” “scariest,” “evil” and “sketchy.” The court of public opinion has handed down a verdict that food manufacturers would be wise to heed. By
popular demand, the natural additives are coming.
Shorter, simpler and therefore “cleaner” food labels are in high
demand by health-conscious consumers. Manufacturers face a refor-
mulation challenge: consistently adapt the product to the previous version’s flavor, color,
mouthfeel and shelf stability. Some large food manufacturers are comply-
ing piecemeal with natural additive demand while attempting to main-
tain the quality of their products.
Kraft Foods is on a natural-additive tear. Last October, Kraft vowed
to cut artificial dyes from three varieties of mac and cheese that come in
kid-friendly pasta shapes. In February, the company pledged to remove
artificial preservatives from its most popular varieties of Singles cheese
slices by replacing sorbic acid with natamycin. This naturally occurring
anti-fungal agent, produced by bacteria during fermentation, is commonly
found in soil. What’s so bad about sorbic acid? It’s just not “natural.”
“Natural” lacks legal definition, but has generally agreed-upon parame-
ters. The FDA washes its hands of total authority, admitting that “[b]ecause of
inherent limitations of science, FDA can never be absolutely [emphasis theirs]
certain of the absence of any risk from the use of any substance.” Hence con-
sumer demand for natural food additives.
What’s all of the food fuss about? I trace the current wave of the new
American food consciousness to Michael Pollan. The author, in his 2008 New
York Times Best Seller “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” postulated that
it’s healthiest to abstain from eating foods and ingredients your grandmother wouldn’t recognize. Pollan
refers to highly manufactured foods as “food-like substances.” Cue the rush to all things natural in order
to promote health in an era riddled with obesity and chronic disease.
As international trade erases borders, consumers are increasingly turning to foods whose sources
and ingredients are more transparent. People who spend their days inundated by technology are finding
comfort in simple, classic foods and home cooking. But most food purists simply can’t spend all of their
extra hours in a flour-dusted apron. The next-best alternative? Eat processed foods that contain as few
ingredients as possible, preferably natural. That’s where manufacturers come in.
Consumers want transparency and choice. If they can afford it, they’ll avoid health risks. In the information age, consumer sentiment is forcing the government’s hand.
For instance, the FDA is currently investigating caramel coloring in soft drinks and other foods after
Consumer Reports tested them for chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel), an impurity formed at low levels
in some caramel coloring during manufacturing. The FDA hasn’t established a maximum 4-Mel level,
though Consumer Reports urged the agency to set one.
When it comes to additives, the FDA is charged with finding reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when used as suggested. Note that recently banned trans fats were considered innovative when
Proctor & Gamble began selling “crystallized cottonseed oil,” branded as Crisco, in 1911. They were
effectively banned mere months ago. Wary consumers might be ahead of their time.
Manufacturers’ investigations into more natural ingredients encourages a shift in the additive market.
Packaged Facts has acknowledged slack and falling demand in several artificial food additive categories,
and forecasts that R&D within the natural additives industry will lead to development of new natural
additives and colorings. This transition to natural ingredients will be easier for large manufacturers
whose economies of scale afford them more flexibility, but eventually small manufacturers are likely to
go with the natural additive flow.
Is your company considering changing formulations to reduce artificial additives? Drop me a line at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss your product reformulation strategy and experience. ◆
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