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Food Ingredients Shift as Consumers Push for Change

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page and our Myth of Natural page.

Take another look at that food label. An ingredient or two may have vanished.

As Americans pay closer attention to what they eat, food and beverage companies are learning that unfamiliar ingredients can invite criticism from online petitions and bloggers. The risk of damaging publicity has proven serious enough that some manufacturers have reformulated top-selling products to remove mysterious, unpronounceable components that could draw suspicion.

Earlier this year, for example, PepsiCo Inc. said it would stop using brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade and find a another way to evenly distribute color in the sports drink. Last year, Starbucks said it would stop using a red dye made of crushed bugs based on comments it received "through a variety of means," including an online petition, and switch to a tomato-based extract. Kraft Foods plans to replace artificial dyes with colors derived from natural spices in select varieties of its macaroni and cheese, a nod to the feedback it's hearing from parents.

Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who covers the packaged food and beverage industry, says the changes reflect a shift from "democratization to activism" by consumers.

"It used to be that people would just decide not to buy the product. Now they're actually agitating for change," Dibadj said. "There's a bullhorn - which is the Internet - so you can get a lot of people involved very quickly."

Companies stand by the safety of their old recipes. Although they don't typically provide details on production decisions, their reasons for using certain ingredients can include cost and manufacturing efficiencies.

Still, food and beverage makers can be sensitive about broadcasting any changes. Chick-fil-A, for instance, has been removing artificial dyes and high-fructose corn syrup from its dressings and sauces. The Atlanta-based chain is also testing a "clean ingredient bun" but has not alerted customers.    


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