Kraft Mac & Cheese’s iconic blazing orange is going natural

Enjoy that bright orange color while it lasts.
Enjoy that bright orange color while it lasts.
Image: AP Photo/Matt York
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Good news for North Americans with a soft spot for Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese but worried about the potential health implications of artificial dyes.

Kraft announced today that it would be changing the recipe, effective January 2016, to remove artificial preservatives and synthetic colors. The company will replace them with colors from “natural sources like paprika, annatto and turmeric.”

The change will effect Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese sold in the US and Kraft Dinner in Canada. In the press release, the company attributed the move to changing family preferences, “including everything from improved nutrition to simpler ingredients.”

Kraft’s announcement may also help it deal with growing competition from the natural foods sector. Annie’s, which sells “totally natural” and organic macaroni and cheese, grew 20% to $204 million in the fiscal year ending March 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported. (In September, General Mills agreed to an $820 million deal to buy Annie’s. Last month, Warren Buffett and 3G Capital announced plans to acquire the company and merge it with H.J. Heinz.)

The decision also comes amid increasing scrutiny over food dyes. In a 2010 report, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found “that many of the nine currently approved dyes raise health concerns.” The dyes in Kraft’s Mac & Cheese—Yellow 5 and Yellow 6—have been linked to hyperactivity in children, the report said.Earlier this year, Nestlé USA said it would remove artificial colors Yellow 5 and Red 40 from its Butterfinger and Crunch candy bars by early next year. In Europe, use of food dyes in products requires a warning label. Kraft says the decision to remove the dyes from its Mac & Cheese is not connected to the hyperactivity reports.

“The Food & Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Health Canada share the FDA’s perspective that these colors are safe for use in foods,” Kraft said in a statement to Quartz.

Of course, the move also raises some business risks. Is it even possible to derive the iconic orange hue of Kraft Mac & Cheese from natural ingredients? Kraft says the company has ”worked hard so the new recipe will have the same look and taste that people know and love.”