8 Food Companies That Are Ditching Artificial Ingredients

Additives, dyes, and preservatives are toppling like dominoes as consumers clamor for healthier options and corporate transparency.

Papa John's pizza. (Photo: Denise Krebs/Flickr)

Jun 30, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

Late last week, Papa John's—America's fourth-favorite pizza chain, trailing Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Little Caesars—announced that it would be spending more than $100 million per year to remove artificial ingredients from its menu. In 2014, the Peyton Manning–backed chain took the MSG out of its ranch dressing and rid its garlic sauce of trans fats, but the new menu overhaul will go above and beyond by eliminating 14 ingredients, including corn syrup, artificial colors, and various preservatives.

The changes are expected to go into effect by the beginning of 2016, so if you're married to the idea of corn-syrupy barbecue sauce on your Papa's Chkn Poppers (sadly, that is the correct spelling), make sure you call in before the New Year.

At this point, the news should surprise no one: It seems as if every week a different food company spams out a press release to the world announcing the banishment of preservatives or additives or artificial colors or pledging to stop using animals that have been treated with antibiotics important to human health. Why is this happening all of a sudden? Consumers are finally voting with their wallets, and companies are forced to either get rid of the potentially harmful ingredients or suffer the economic consequences.

When Taco Bell announced that it would be nixing certain artificial ingredients, chief food innovation officer Liz Matthews said in a statement, “Today’s customers are more curious and interested about food than ever. They want to understand what they’re eating and expect to know more about it.” She even used the term "food revolution."

(Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr)

So, Why Should You Care? Many of the additives that go into our food are listed under the FDA’s umbrella term “generally recognized as safe,” which means the substance has been tested and approved by “qualified experts.” However, these so-called experts—qualified as they may be—are rarely impartial. In 2012, researchers from The Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed 451 GRAS claims submitted to the FDA and found that financially objective third parties executed zero of the safety assessments. Even worse, the company that manufactured the food additive in the first place carried out more than 20 percent of the tests.

Because it can be hard to keep track of all the ingredient shuffling, below is a list of seven other companies that have started to phase out artificial ingredients.

Kraft

(Photo: Urban Lenny/Flickr)

In April, the boxed pasta and powdered cheese powerhouse decided that its signature yellow-orange sauce would start looking a little less like Day-Glo and a little more like food. Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 will be replaced with annatto seed and paprika extract in its signature macaroni and cheese.

Subway

(Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Even though the sandwich shop that reminds you to "eat fresh" removed azodicarbonamide—more popularly referred to as the "yoga mat chemical," thanks to Food Babe—in April 2014, it wasn't until early June 2015 that Subway announced it would finally be removing propionic acid from its meats and Yellow No. 5 from its banana peppers. However, Subway, the world's largest restaurant chain, has yet to take a stand against using animals treated with antibiotics.

General Mills

(Photo: Getty Images)

While 60 percent of General Mills cereals—including Cheerios, Wheaties, and Kix—are free of artificial ingredients, the company will target the remaining 40 percent over the next two years, using fruit and vegetable juices and spice extracts to mimic the once-artificial colors it was known for. The only potential downside here: no more blue Trix.

Nestlé

(Photo: Flickr)

In an overhaul that makes Papa John's efforts look like a minor tweak, Nestlé, the world's largest food company, announced in February that it would be removing artificial ingredients and colors from more than 250 items by the end of 2015.

Taco Bell

(Photo: Flickr)

The Mexican-ish juggernaut of sub-$1 tacos announced in May that it would be removing select artificial colors and ingredients from its menu, including Yellow No. 6 and Blue No. 1. Same goes for its sister chain, Pizza Hut. However, nothing will change in its co-branded items, including the Doritos Locos Tacos, one of the nuevo staples on Taco Bell's menu.

McDonald's

(Photo: Flickr)

In March, McDonald's made big waves in the chicken industry by pledging to reduce the amount of antibiotics important to human health used in raising its chickens. In the same month, the Golden Arches also said it would reduce the amount of ingredients in its grilled chicken breast from 18 to 12, eliminating potentially harmful additives such as sodium phosphate.

Panera Bread

A pioneer of the anti-scary-sounding-additive movement, Panera Bread started phasing out artificial ingredients in June 2014. But in May 2015, it officially created what's referred to as the "No No List" of artificial ingredients. The list includes the preservative butylated hydroxyanisole, which is classified as an endocrine disruptor by the European Union and considered a possible human carcinogen, according to the Environmental Working Group.