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Kraft No Longer to Dye For

The Kraft news train keeps on a chuggin’. In an announcement on April 20, Kraft revealed that a whole host of its mac and cheese products will be getting rid of any artificial dyes, effective January 2016. Fear not! This doesn’t mean your mac and cheese will lose its color altogether. Kraft will be looking instead toward natural dyes like paprika, tumeric, and annatto.

What are those dyes about? Annatto is often used in cheddar, giving it the signature orange color we all know and love. Dyes were historically added to cheeses as a way to give customers what they expected. Cows who feed on beta-carotene rich grasses produce milk that makes for a yellower cheese, but in the winter months cheese is whiter, and customers expected color. By adding annatto, farmers signaled that their orange cheeses were high quality (even if they weren’t), and the tradition carries through to today.

Kraft’s move is an attempt to address consumer concerns about artificial ingredients in their food and a general market trend toward all-natural foods. According to Quartz, Annie’s—a competitor that promotes all natural, organic mac and cheese—saw 20 percent growth in 2014. Kraft has made other moves to appease increasingly vocal critics, including their Boxed Shapes line launched last year which boasts lower sodium and saturated fats and has no artificial colors.

Annatto seeds in pod

The seeds of the annatto plant are what makes your cheese orange.

Triona Schmelter, Vice President of Marketing, Meals, said in the announcement that Kraft wants to address concerned families while maintaining the taste and look of your childhood:

“We’ve met with families in their homes. . . . They told us they want to feel good about the foods they eat and serve their families, including everything from improved nutrition to simpler ingredients. They also told us they won’t compromise on the taste of their Mac & Cheese—and neither will we.”

Can Kraft maintain the original look of their artificially colored, bright orange mac and cheese with natural coloring? Does it matter? Kraft claims they are doing everything in their power to make the taste the same, although color could play a big part in people’s nostalgia.

Either way, the company seems to be taking a step forward, trying to squash criticism by dropping the Kids Eat Right label and now getting rid of artificial dyes. It’s easy to cast a cynical eye to Kraft’s actions, but maybe we should also applaud them doing the right thing, even if it is solely for practical purposes. As long as they make sure not to include any more boxes with shards of metal in them, I think they’ll do just fine.

Feature Photo Credit: “mac and cheese” by julie deshaies | Shutterstock

Gabrielle Roman

Gabrielle Roman is earning her Master's in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College in Boston. She is originally from Kansas City and misses the BBQ but the Thai food is good consolation. Her favorite hobby is cuddling with her puppy.