February 22, 2015
Nestlé USA said it is removing artificial ingredients from its Crunch, Butterfinger, Oh Henry!, Raisinets and other chocolate treats in response to consumer interest in healthier foods. Some experts say the company is more concerned with its financial health than the health of sweet-toothed Americans as demand for lower-calorie and healthier sounding food soars.
The candy manufacturer said on Tuesday that it has removed artificial flavors and colors that are certified by the Food and Drug Administration from more than 250 chocolate products. The new versions will begin appearing on shelves in mid-2015. “We know that candy consumers are interested in broader food trends around fewer artificial ingredients,” Doreen Ida, president of Nestlé USA Confections & Snacks, said in a statement. She said the new recipes have already been tested on consumers: “We never compromise on taste.” Caramel coloring is an “exempt-from-certification color additive,” and will still be used in nine of the more than 250 chocolate products.
Americans appear to want healthier food. There was a 96% increase in the availability of lower-calorie products between 2008 and 2012 compared with just a 4% increase in the availability of higher-calorie food and beverages, according to an analysis of Nielsen data covering 16 major food and beverage companies by the Hudson Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C. These same 16 companies who are members of the “Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation” — a food industry-led initiative that also sponsored the study — cut 6.4 trillion calories from the marketplace from 2007 to 2012, and 99% of the almost $487 million sales growth came from lower-calorie foods.
“The companies that are improving their products are going to reap the rewards,” says Hank Cardello, director of the Obesity Solutions Initiative at the Hudson Institute. “Companies are doing something in their enlightened self-interest.”
Other research suggests sugary drinks are falling out of favor, but at a relatively slow pace: From 2009 to 2011, sales of regular soft drinks fell 1.9% to $27 billion, according to a 2012 report from market research group Mintel; it did find that regular soda sales are declining from their peak. Coca-Cola KO, -1.56% says it has helped reduce the number of “beverage calories” sold in schools by 90% since 2006. “They’re trying to find the sweet spot — no pun intended,” Cardello says. “It’s not a fad, it’s a trend.”
But not everyone is happy with this trend. “Activist groups are pushing the ludicrous theory that foods or ingredients, specifically sugar, are addictive like hard drugs,” says Will Coggin, a director of research at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Consumer Freedom, which receives funding from the food and drinks industry.
Americans are still among the unhealthiest snackers in the world, according to a 2014 survey of 60 countries by research group Nielsen. The No. 1 favorite snack food in the U.S. is potato chips. Europeans and people in the Middle East and Africa eat fresh fruit as their top snack. Latin Americans prefer yogurt, while chocolate was No. 1 in Asia-Pacific.
Others say food companies should not be marketing candy or soft drinks to children — period. “Taking out artificial ingredients is not the same as making something healthy,” says Steffie Woolhandler, professor of public health at the City University of New York, adding that candy is high in sugar and low in nutrients with or without artificial colors and flavoring. “The result is the epidemic of obesity and diabetes, with a new wave of heart disease likely to follow,” she adds.
Obesity rates — defined as a body-mass index, or BMI, of 30 or more — impact 35% of U.S. adults, or 79 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “While libertarians may be the public face of opposition to government efforts to protect children, the real muscle has come from corporate food giants,” she adds. “We’re still in the early stages of a protracted battle to put children’s health above corporate profits.”
Originally published by MarketWatch.com