General Mills: Making Healthier Cereals, or just Marketing?


Slurping down the colorful residuals of Lucky Charms left in excess milk is soon going to be a more subdued affair. General Mills recently announced that it would rid all of its sugar cereals of artificial coloring and flavors, replacing them with more naturally derived ingredients like turmeric and annatto extract. According to the food manufacturer, the change stems from consumer demand.

The purge will take place over the next three years, with some benchmarks along the way. According to their blog post ...

We are aiming for 75 percent by January – including Reese’s Puffs and Trix – and 90 percent by the end of 2016, giving our product developers time to make sure they look and taste great.”

General Mills claims that 60% of its cereals are already free of artificial dyes and flavors. The whole phase out should be done by 2017. Check out their promo announcement complete with inspirational music and down-to-earth soundbites from their product developers.

Hooray! So let’s all go out and buy a bunch of cereal for our kids! When there are no artificial dyes, these brands will be perfectly safe and healthy, right?

Of course that is not the case. Samantha Bonar of the LA Times interviewed Professor John Lang at Occidental College. He specializes in the sociology of food, and is of the opinion that this move is marketing-driven to drive up slumping sales in the cereal industry:

This will quickly be spun to say it is an attempt to make their products healthier, but that is a very narrow claim,” he added. “Kids cereals are, and will likely remain, much higher in sugar and sodium, and lower in fiber than cereals marketed towards adults.”

It’s true. Last year an Environmental Working Group study found that cereal marketed to kids had about 40% more sugar than their adult-oriented counterparts. Quoting Michelle Simon, food lawyer and founder of Eat.Drink.Politics, Drew Harwell of the Washington Post drives the point home that artificial dyes and flavors are hardly the most vexing part about sugar cereals:

These kid-oriented cereals are still extremely processed, have virtually no nutritional value and are fortified with vitamins because the real nutrients have been stripped in processing,’ Simon added. ‘If they really wanted to be healthier, they should stop bombarding children with messages to eat candy in a box.’"

Still, kudos to General Mills for responding to consumer demand. "We're simply listening to consumers and these ingredients are not what people are looking for in their cereal today," says Jim Murphy, President of General Mills’s cereal division. So, while this may be as much a marketing ploy as it is a response to real consumer concerns, it is yet another example of how trends in food products are headed closer to the naturalness that so many of us like to see.

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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