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A low key renovation

5th April 2016

Last year, Kraft Heinz announced it would be removing artificial colouring from its macaroni and cheese products due to public pressure, including a petition signed by 365,000 people. However, no marketing campaign about the new wholesome product was launched, and without knowing it consumers participated in the world’s largest blind tasting test as 50 million boxes of Mac and Cheese were sold before Kraft Heinz announced they had made the changes

Kraft Heinz’s experience proves that removal of artificial colouring and preservatives needn’t lead to taste-less, soggy food, but can be done without alienating its target consumer. However, it takes a lot of practice to get the taste right – for Kraft Heinz the process of removing artificial colouring lasted three years before taste, texture and appearance were just right.

The Mac and Cheese blind taste test been hailed as “a great signifier for companies that may be unconvinced they can make their products healthier without compromising on taste”. But is it? Three years of testing, extensive re-formulation changing the ingredients on the pack and….no one noticed. Will the change make those  people who are actually concerned about healthy eating chow down on Mac and Cheese any more than did before?

One could make the argument that people who just “add butter and milk, then stir’ their dinner aren’t particularly interested in health – otherwise they would probably make an effort to buy fresh vegetables and cook from scratch.

The roll call of other companies changing to natural ingredients just reinforces the point: Nestlé USA announced last year that it would be removing all artificial colors and flavors from products like its Nestle Crunch butterfinger; General Mills committed to remove artificial colors and flavors from its cereals by the end of 2016 and from its fruit snacks by the end of 2017; and most recently, Mars announced it will remove all artificial colors from its entire human food portfolio over the next 5 years – including blue M & Ms. It may seem highly commendable – and will definitely be expensive removing safe artificial ingredients in favour of “natural”, but does it really make any of these high calorie processed food products any healthier? Or is it just making people feel slightly better about eating the snacks, confectionery and pre-prepared meals they want to eat?