The country's most popular macaroni and cheese brand, the bright orange stuff in the bright blue box, is getting a facelift.
Kraft Foods Group is removing artificial colors and preservatives from its original recipe Macaroni & Cheese dinners, the company announced today, making it the latest in a series of food companies to focus on quality ingredients.
The move comes at a difficult time for Kraft. The company was recently forced to recall 6.5 million boxes of macaroni and cheese after small pieces of metal were found in some boxes. Late last year, it fired many of its advertising agencies following sluggish demand and slowing sales. Over the past few years, Kraft has been among the companies targeted by consumer advocacy groups, who have pressured the food company to make its products less processed. Even first lady Michelle Obama threw a thinly-veiled jab at Kraft mac & cheese when she told Cooking Light magazine, "[W]e stopped eating macaroni and cheese out of a box because cheese dust is not food..."
Kraft, it seems, has listened.
"Consumers have been telling us, and parents in particular, that they want to feel good about the foods that they eat and that they serve their families," Triona Schmelter, Kraft's vice president of marketing for meals, told the Chicago Tribune. "The one thing they are most adamant about," Schmelter added, is "they absolutely don't want us to change the taste."
Kraft said the "new and improved" Macaroni & Cheese will hit store shelves starting in January 2016. The announcement comes after about three years of research and consumer tests, it added. The foodmaker will remove Yellow dyes Nos. 5 and 6 from the recipe, replacing them with paprika, annatto and turmeric.
Of course, Kraft is just latest company to turn to more natural ingredients at the behest of consumers looking for better quality in the food products they buy.
According to reports, McDonald's may introduce kale to its menu later this year. The fast food giant also announced that it will phase out chickens raised with antibiotics and begin to offer milk from cows not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.
And as the Chicago Tribune pointed out, there's more. "H.J. Heinz, which last month unveiled plans to buy Kraft, launched a yellow mustard this week highlighting natural ingredients such as stone-ground mustard seeds. Hershey is introducing a simpler list of ingredients for its milk chocolate bars and milk chocolate Kisses sold in the United States. And Kellogg is launching a line of muesli and granola cereals without preservatives, artificial colors or artificial flavors."
It's an industry-wide trend toward higher-quality, less-processed foods, spurred by consumers - a win-win for both companies and their customers.