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This Company Just Ditched Artificial Food Dyes

The food of the future won’t necessarily look less fake—but its ingredient list might

Soon, the garish colors of M&Ms will take a more natural turn. (Richard Levine/Demotix/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, your favorite candy may come with a side of artificial colors. But not for long. As Michal Addady reports for Fortune, candy behemoth Mars, Inc. has announced it will remove artificial colors from all of its human food products over the next five years.

In a press release about the change, Mars announced that it’s ditching all artificial colors as “part of a commitment to meet evolving consumer preferences.” The company states that though artificial colors do not pose risks to humans, it is now working on ways to develop vibrant natural colors for candies like M&Ms, Skittles and other products.

Mars isn’t the only company that has responded to consumer outcries against artificial ingredients in recent years. Earlier this year, Kraft announced that the iconic orange hue behind its bestselling Macaroni & Cheese will soon lose all synthetic coloring. Other companies from Nestlé to Noodles & Company followed suit. General Mills has also vowed to nix synthetic dyes from its foods, but conceded that its Trix cereal will lose a few colors in the process.

Though FDA officials have repeatedly advised that artificial colorings do not cause conditions like hyperactivity or warrant warning labels, a growing number of consumers object to fake coloring agents with pharmaceutical-sounding names like FD&C Red 40. A 2015 global Nielsen poll found that 42 percent of consumers consider a lack of artificial colors in food to be “very important,” though the number of North American consumers who shunned artificial colors was lower than that of all other regions (only 29 percent versus, for example, 44 percent in the Asia-Pacific region).

You may think that the change at Mars and other large food companies will only affect outlandishly colored foods like candies and cereals. You’d be wrong: Dyes are a mainstay of mass-produced food. Some specialists say that swapping out the synthetic stuff for dyes produced from real ingredients will be difficult and expensive. But in the land of food, the consumer is king. Food sans artificial dyes probably won’t look less fake—but its ingredient list just might.

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