Color Wars: International Reactions to Artificial Dyes

Recently the issue of artificial versus natural dyes came to my attention as a mother and it got me wondering why more companies aren’t jumping on this “natural” claims opportunity.

It all began when I noticed an interesting update in my Facebook newsfeed.  It was from a health conscious mom who blogs about whipping up unprocessed meals for her family (100 days of Real Food). This particular post took issue with artificial dyes found in many U.S. foods and the possible link between those dyes and behavioral problems in children. Apparently this has been an ongoing debate for some time without any hard evidence to actually sway the FDA to take action. However, that’s not the case everywhere. I was surprised to learn that in 2010 the European Union approved policy that states manufacturers must display this warning label on the product if artificial dyes are used:

"May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."

Rather than using this alarming message on their packages, many companies have opted to switch to natural coloring instead.

Since then, I’ve noticed this topic popping up beyond my newsfeed, on The Today Show and The Huffington Post. As consumers increasingly reach for products that are more natural and healthy, some U.S. companies are even being proactive.  Kraft just announced they would stop using artificial dyes in 3 kid-friendly macaroni and cheese products for 2014.

This got me wondering about which foods in my house contain artificial dyes and if I needed to start monitoring these with my 3 year old. Then I remembered the Goldfish®, her beloved go-to snack.

Goldfish Colorsrounded

I used to only buy the Original Goldfish® crackers. But during our annual summer beach trip with a few other families, my daughter discovered what she calls “the rainbow Goldfish®.” A conversation started up among the adults about the ingredient list: beet juice, paprika, turmeric, huito and watermelon. Nope, the adults couldn't taste the beets or the watermelon! Ha! I think they were confused. These weren’t flavors but rather natural colorants. But what is so surprising to me is that this claim isn’t front and center on their packaging but tucked away on the side! Look at the picture that I took. The message on the front simply reads, “Colors. Baked with real cheese.”

How many more parents would choose this product if they knew it didn’t contain suspect artificial dyes? All of this reminded me that it’s quite difficult to get a new or alternative product on someone’s radar. Marketing consultant, Jack Trout wrote in his book, Differentiate or Die: Survival In Our Era of Killer Competition, that American families repeatedly buy the same 150 items, constituting as much as 85% of their household needs. Homing in on unique and meaningful product claims can raise awareness to other products for consideration. Our most recent webinar on claims research underscores how important it is to know your objectives in order to crack the claim code. Are you trying to find something unique about your product? Claims are important because they can help companies differentiate and can impact brand and product perceptions. Which is exactly what happened with me! I never once thought of buying the rainbow Goldfish before, but now that I know they are made with natural colors they’ll definitely be on my Mom-approved Snack List from now on!