Your Cereal Is Getting a Subtler Look

Get ready for a more subdued look in your cereal bowl — or on your fast-food tray — as food companies reformulate their products to eliminate artificial dyes.

Photo by: Lauri Patterson

Lauri Patterson

Get ready for a more subdued look in your cereal bowl — or on your fast-food tray. As food companies reformulate their products to eliminate artificial dyes, in response to consumer demand, they’ve been looking for natural alternatives. But coloring derived from fruits, vegetables and spices — ingredients like beets or carrots — has its limits in terms of vividness.

General Mills, which announced in June that it would eliminate artificial colors in the 40 percent of its cereals that still contain them, has warned that when its reformulated cereals hit shelves this year, the red pieces in Trix, which will now get their hues from radishes and strawberries, will not look the same. The popular cereal’s blue and green pieces will be missing altogether.

"We haven't been able to get that same vibrant color," Kate Gallager, General Mills cereal developer, told the Chicago Tribune.

Other changes to expect, thanks to the movement away from synthetic colors and toward natural hues?

  • At Panera, the mozzarella cheese won’t look as white — and, in fact, might have a distinctly yellowish cast after the company removes the whitener titanium dioxide as an ingredient. The candy-coated chocolates the company is testing for use in its cookies may also look duller than the artificially colored versions we all may be used to.
  • At Subway, the banana peppers in its sandwiches will not be the same shade of bright yellow once the company stops using a synthetic dye and begins coloring them with turmeric — but they will still be bright yellow.
  • New natural color sources are also headed our way: Spirulina, a blue-green algae, was approved for use as a coloring by the FDA in 2013, an orange hue made from paprika stripped of its flavor was recently introduced to color orange beverages, and a petition to tint foods yellow with carthamus from safflower is in the pipeline, the Tribune reports.

Some companies — like candy makers Hershey and Mars — are declining to swap the artificially bright colors we’re used to for lower-key natural colorings, at least for the time being, fearing customers will be turned off by the dimmer hues. But Panera’s head baker, Tom Gumpel, said that he thinks people are ready to make the tradeoff.

"You have to remove some of your expectations," he told the Tribune.

Photo courtesy of iStock
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