General Mills is taking artificial flavors and colors out of its cereals

Natural sugar cereal? Charming.
Natural sugar cereal? Charming.
Image: AP Photo/ Gene J. Puskar
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General Mills announced today that it will be removing artificial flavors and colors from the 40% of its cereals that still have them by 2017 in the US and Canada, including the brightly-colored kids’ cereal, Trix.

The move follows similar announcements from other major packaged food companies—PepsiCo took aspartame out of Diet Pepsi and Kraft is taking artificial preservatives and colors out of its Macaroni & Cheese—as well as fast food chains, including Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Panera and Subway. General Mills cited ”consumers’ changing tastes” as the motivation to make the switch, pointing to a Nielsen study that found that 49% of households are trying to avoid artificial colors and flavors.

More than 60% of General Mills’ cereals are already free of artificial flavors and colors, including Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and “have been that way for a long time,” according to the company. It plans to have more than 90% of its cereal portfolio in the US and Canada free of artificial flavors and preservatives by the end of 2016, beginning with several favorites, including Trix. The company says it will make the red, yellow, purple, and orange colors with ingredients like fruit and vegetable juices and spice extracts. Consumers can expect the reformulated Trix to be available this winter, the company says, though it will not contain green and blue puffs, the Star Tribune reports, because they are harder to make naturally. Cereals that include marshmallows, like Lucky Charms, “may take longer,” said Kate Gallager, General Mills cereal developer. (Marshmallows have a more complex makeup that makes them harder to retool without impacting taste, texture and appearance, than puffs or flakes, according to General Mills.)

“We’ve continued to listen to consumers who want to see more recognizable and familiar ingredients on the labels and challenged ourselves to remove any barriers that prevent adults and children from enjoying our cereals,” said Jim Murphy, president of the General Mills cereal division, in a press release. Some food dyes, like Yellow 6 and Red 40, both of which are currently in Trix, contain known carcinogens, according to consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest. General Mills says the changes are not in response to the health concerns but “are a response to consumers increased interested in the ingredients used in their food.”

While General Mills will not disclose what the changes will cost, the company has said that the price of its cereals would not rise. “The cost won’t be passed along to consumers,” a spokesperson told Quartz over email. Ingredient changes do tend to take a toll on companies’ production costs. At Chipotle, using more organic flour has made its tortillas more expensive and last October, Panera cited more expensive ingredients as a reason for its lower per-share earnings.

In the US, cereals are the company’s biggest source of revenue. The segment pulled in $2.3 billion in 2014, comprising 22% of the company’s US retail sales, and beating its other six divisions. In its third-quarter results, announced in March, the company said its US retail net sales were down 3% since last year, but its cereal unit net sales were “essentially unchanged.”