If you are among the many thousands of parents who desperately avoid the cereal aisle when your little ones are shopping with you, you’re not alone. That cereal aisle is a mine field full of sugar and artificial everything. FoodFacts.com has done our fair share of wrangling with small children to remove that box of Lucky Charms from their tight grip. We know the story. The kids see the cereal on a television commercial. They play branded games on the cereal’s website. They come with you to the store and the boxes of the cereals we don’t want our kids to have are the ones that are easiest for them to reach. The packaging is brightly colored and features fun characters the kids are already familiar with. And then you’ve got a problem.
General Mills is the latest food manufacturer committed to helping you with that problem by 2017 Trix, Lucky Charms and other iconic cereals are getting a natural upgrade in the latest bid by a major food company to create healthier products.
General Mills (GIS) said Monday that it will phase out artificial flavors and colors from all of its cereals by 2017. The announcement is the latest from an ever-growing group of food retailers vowing to ax artificial ingredients, including Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Panera, Kraft Foods Group and Subway.
“We’ve continued to listen to consumers who want to see more recognizable and familiar ingredients on the labels and challenged ourselves to remove barriers that prevent adults and children from enjoying our cereals,” said Jim Murphy, president of General Mills cereal division, in a statement.
Packaged-food companies are losing market share and seeing revenue fall as consumers turn toward brands known for less processed, simpler, more authentic food. Many companies are trying to draw back customers’ attention by redoing products with fewer complex ingredients and taking stands against additives like antibiotics in meat.
Those that don’t will likely lose customers, says Kelly O’Keefe, a brand management professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“They need to be investing, they need to be changing out their product lines with better ingredients and they need to do it very quickly,” he says. “In the next two to three years, if you’re not moving in the right direction you’re going to see those brands fading rapidly into obscurity.”
General Mills cereals such as Trix and Reese’s Puffs will now be made with fruit and vegetable juices and natural vanilla. Trix will lose some colors in the process. The company began reformulating it about three years ago, and when the new version rolls out this winter, it will have just four colors instead of six. Blue and green didn’t make the cut because the company hasn’t identified a suitable natural alternative.
“We’re continuing to work on them, but they didn’t deliver on that vibrant color that we expect from Trix,” says Kate Gallager, a General Mills cereal developer. Reese’s Puffs, also rolling out this winter, will no longer be artificially colored, but Gallager says the difference is barely noticeable. The recipe changes will only affect cereals sold in the U.S. and Canada.
General Mills, whose cereals include Corn Chex, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Wheaties and Fiber One, declined to say how much it’s investing to upgrade ingredients, but the cost won’t be passed along to consumers, says spokesman Mike Siemienas.
Though consumers will likely eventually have to pay for all the ingredient changes food companies are making, O’Keefe says.
“(Companies) might be willing to take a slightly shallower profit for a couple years, but ultimately, if they’re not passing along the cost to the consumers, they’re not staying in business.”
Artificial ingredients are already absent from 60% of General Mills cereals, the company said. They either never had them or they were already replaced.
Reformulating cereals with marshmallows will be a focus next year, says the company, adding this may take longer than grain-heavy cereals. General Mills plans to have more than 90% of the cereal portfolio artificial-free by the end of 2016, with 100% free by the end of 2017.
The hardest part about switching from artificial ingredients to natural ingredients is maintaining consistent flavor and texture, according to Gallager. Natural dyes like turmeric for yellow, paprika for red and fruit and vegetable concentrates can sometimes impart too much flavor or don’t produce colors that are as bold.
Beyond cereal, General Mills says it’s already transforming multiple product lines to make them healthier.
So by 2017, Lucky Charms will be magically delicious without artificial colors and flavors. Depending on the other ingredients, you may or may not decide to allow for the inclusion of that adorable leprechaun in your food pantry. But you will have a little less to worry about. And grocery shopping with the kids may get a little easier.