See Which Candy Company Is Getting Rid of Artificial Ingredients

Synthetic food dyes and flavors will be phased out of 250 Nestlé products by the end of 2015.

(Photo: Newscast/UIG via Getty Images)

Feb 17, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

They may still be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, but Butterfingers, Baby Ruths, Crunch bars, and other Nestlé candy will take a step in a (possibly) healthier direction come the end of the year. The world's largest food company announced Tuesday that all artificial colors and flavors will be phased out of its candy products sold in the United States.

“Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company and our commitment to remove artificial flavors and certified colors in our chocolate candy brands is an important milestone,” Doreen Ida, the president of Nestlé USA Confections & Snacks, said in a statement, noting that the company is leading the way among U.S. candy makers in making such a change.

It’s a change that consumers have been asking for—and that demand has proved capable of creating change where health concerns have not.

The company says that the 250 products affected by the change—75 are being reformulated, while the ingredients are simply being dropped from the rest—will look, taste, and most important, cost the same. But research has suggested that consumers are willing to pay more for products made without artificial colors and flavors.

While the Food and Drug Administration approved many of the artificial food dyes in use more than 80 years ago, they are increasingly prevalent in processed foods, with usage spiking by more than half since 1990. Despite ongoing concerns that the consumption of artificial food colorings can lead to hyperactivity in children, the FDA has resisted adding warning labels to products made with them. But in 2010, the European Union started to require warning labels for products made with six artificial dyes linked with hyperactivity, and many companies chose to reformulate rather than risk a drop in sales.

“There is no way back for consumers. Everything now is going to be natural colors in one way or another,” Steve Tolliday, principal product technologist for Nestlé in the U.K., said at a 2012 conference in Germany.

Consumer activists have long complained about the alternative ingredients multinational food companies use in Europe—natural dyes, no GMOs—while American consumers get the suspect ingredients. But critical mass is finally bringing many of those changes stateside. Nearly half of consumers look for “no artificial ingredients” labels when they shop, according to Consumer Reports. Meanwhile, Nestlé cites Nielsen’s 2014 Global Health and Wellness Survey, which found that 60 percent of consumers said such a designation influences their purchasing decisions.

Nestlé would not provide a complete list of the artificial ingredients that will be phased out as a result of this change, but examples identified in press materials included red 40, which will be swapped for annatto—a dye derived from the ruddy seeds of the subtropical achiote tree—and artificial vanillin, which will be replaced by real vanilla.