Nestlé USA's latest announcement is bittersweet

Nestlé chocolate bars
© Nestlé

The candy giant promises to remove all artificial colours and dyes from its candy by end of 2015 -- something it already did years ago in the UK.

Nestlé announced earlier this week that its U.S. division would remove all artificial flavourings and dyes from its candy by the end of 2015. More than 250 products and 10 brands will no longer contain ingredients such as Red 40 and Yellow 5. Instead, these will be replaced with ‘natural’ alternatives, including annatto, made from the seeds of the fruit of the anchiote tree, and real vanilla flavor.

The decision was made in response to mounting consumer pressure. Nielson’s 2014 Global Health & Wellness survey found that over 60 percent of Americans look for products without artificial dyes and flavors when shopping – a significant increase from the 25 percent of shoppers who reported checking food labels in order to avoid artificial additives in 2013, and 10 percent in 2012. Global sales of natural food colorings surpassed those of synthetic colors for the first time in 2011, which shows that consumers are paying closer attention to ingredient lists.

While Nestlé’s announcement may seem like a step in the right direction, many U.S. consumers may not realize that the company already cleaned up its act in the United Kingdom. For the past three years, all Nestlé products sold in the UK have been free from artificial additives. Despite the fact that the change was made in response to the 2007 Southampton Study, which linked hyperactivity in children with several artificial food additives, Nestlé did not make the same changes for the U.S. market because there was insufficient consumer demand to do so.

Knowing that makes Nestlé CEO Doreen Ida’s comments on the newest commitment sound hollow: “Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company and our commitment to remove artificial flavors and certified colors in our chocolate candy brands is an important milestone. We’re excited to be the first major U.S. candy manufacturer to make this commitment.” (Sure, and just think how excited you could have been to make that groundbreaking commitment three years ago!)

Nestlé may run into issues with its natural additives. Apparently, annatto can cause migraines, hives, peanut allergy-like reactions, and irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms in many people, although it has not yet been studied in detail.

I’m not impressed by Nestlé’s announcement because, no matter how many ‘natural’ additives go into making a candy bar, it doesn’t make the candy bar less of a junk-food treat. As for hyperactivity in children, the sugar alone is enough to get mine wired. I prefer to stay away from Nestlé products altogether and stick with bars of fair-trade chocolate when the craving hits.

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