While the F.D.A’s two-day hearing on petroleum-based artificial colors continues today, know that American companies offer different products to American and European consumers.
In the United States, for example, M&M’s and Skittles (Mars, Inc.), Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars (Kellogg’s) and strawberry sundaes at McDonald’s contain artificial dyes, while the same products in Europe are colored with plant-based extracts.
In the European Union, warning labels are required for foods containing any of six artificial colors. Because of Europe’s heightened awareness of synthetic dyes, a warning label is tantamount to limited sales. Thus, extracts from real foods such as beets, paprika and turmeric are used to color.
But not all American companies are so stuck in their hometown mud. Pepperidge Farm, which, for seven years, had used artificial colorants in its colored goldfish, switched to natural dyes in July 2010.
The colored goldfish are now brightened with annatto extract, beet juice concentrate, paprika extract, paprika, turmeric extract, huito juice concentrate and watermelon juice concentrate, instead of blue 2, red 40, red 3 and blue 1. (There is a banner on the new bags with "Colors From Natural Ingredients" written.)
Interestingly, Pepperidge Farm cited customer preference for its recent switch, the same reason it gave me in September 2008 for employing artificial colors in 2003.
Pepperidge Farm, March 2011: “There were so many consumers who had children that had problems with artificial colorings that we decided to change to the natural colorants.”
Pepperidge Farm, September 2008: “We used to use natural colorings, but we couldn’t achieve the vibrant colors that consumers wanted, so we had to go the other way. Consumer preference was for a brighter, broader range of colors.”
While it may seem that the large corporations exert iron-fisted control, know that public sentiment and purchasing power—and their role in the bottom line—shouldn’t be taken for granted. Don’t like a product? Make a phone call (or six).