The maker of iconic children’s snacks Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot and Fruit Gushers announced that it will remove artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources from its entire portfolio of fruit-flavored snacks by the end of 2017.
The company has already started down this path with “roughly 20% of our fruit flavored snacks … already free of artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources,” Jacquie Klein, senior marketing manager, fruit flavored snacks, told FoodNavigator-USA. She added, “We just felt the time was right to work to extend this same approach across all of our General Mills fruit flavored snacks.”
The company will continue with its character equity shapes, such as Scooby-Doo! And SpongBob, which will start hitting store-shelves in January 2016, she said. Following that, the firm will remove artificial colors and flavors from it Betty Crocker fruit flavored shapes portfolio by March 2016 before removing them from the rest of its fruit flavored snack portfolio by the end of 2017.
The company estimates phasing out the artificial ingredients will take two to three years to complete, in part because the change impacts so many products.
“Big changes like this are challenging, but we have made great progress. We have amazing people working on these challenges, and we feel confident that they can figure this out. It’s just going to take some time,” said Klein.
“For example,” she explained, “we have a broad portfolio of brands and equity licenses, and this change requires us affecting dozens of products at a time. We want to take the time to ensure we continue to deliver products that families love with a great taste and experience.”
When the company made a similar commitment in 2015 to phase out artificial colors and flavors from its cereals, it explained that finding natural colors that did not also alter the flavor was difficult.
Likewise, in general, maintaining the expected flavor intensity when replacing artificial flavors with natural ones is a challenge that could require more flavoring, which could increase production costs, a sales manager from the Original Gourmet Food Company previously told FoodNavigator-USA.
Meeting consumer demand
Overcoming these challenges is worth it given the increasing number of Americans who are turning away from artificially colored and flavored products – especially those aimed at children.
General Mills notes a March 2014 survey found more than 50% of lapsed and current fruit flavored snack consumers would be more likely to purchase fruit flavored snacks if they had natural colors and flavors.
“We think that this is a big potential motivator for our products and that the change to our entire portfolio will make our products even better and continue to deliver what people want in their snacks,” Klein said. “We continue to listen to what people want and our recent study highlighted that this could be an opportunity to better meet people’s needs.”
General Mills estimate of 50% is low compared to other similar research. A survey conducted by the color and flavor company Kalsec, for example, found 83% of US and UK parents said they would more likely buy food for their children that has natural and not synthetic colors.
In that survey, parents cited specific concerns about artificial red dyes, which would be associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other behavior issues.
Inspiring category change
The market research combined with General Mills’ declaration to remove artificial colors and flavors from fruit flavored snacks cold be a “potential motivator for the category” overall to follow its lead, according to the company, which says it is the first firm to make such a move in the category.
General Mills plans to pay up the change on the front of the package, according to mock-ups that have not been finalized. They contain claims in large font that the product is now formulated with no artificial flavors and no colors from artificial sources. The mock up, which could change, also shows a smaller claim that the product is “naturally flavored.”