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3p Weekend: 10 Companies That Are Actually Listening to Customers About Controversial Ingredients


With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

From the ongoing debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to ingredients lists so complicated they should come with a scientific dictionary, consumers are becoming increasingly active about the ingredients in their favorite food and personal care products. While many companies turn a deaf hear to customers' requests for transparency, some are heeding the call and taking steps toward sustainable ingredients sourcing.

Here are 10 of our favorite success stories (and one cautionary tale that shows what not to do).

1. Mars Inc. raises the bar for sustainable palm oil

Mars Inc. is upping the ante regarding the sustainable palm oil market. In March, the manufacturer of the popular chocolate candy bars Mars Bar, 3 Musketeers and Twix announced its commitment to transition to 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil in its products by the end of 2014.

Unilever, Kellogg's, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts have also made bold palm oil commitments in the past year.

2. Coca-Cola and Pepsi ditch brominated vegetable oil

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a controversial ingredient used in flame retardants, can be found in roughly 10 percent of all soft drinks. That was until recently when Coca-Cola removed the ingredient from its Powerade sports drink after a Change.org petition started by 15-year-old Sarah Kavanaugh received more than 200,000 signatures.

Another petition started by Kavanaugh inspired PepsiCo to remove BVO from its Gatorade drinks last year. Following Coca-Cola's announcement, Pepsi confirmed it will remove the ingredient from its entire product line, including Mountain Dew and Amp -- two beverages that still contained the ingredient.

3. Subway removes so-called 'yoga mat chemical' from its bread

Earlier this year, Subway decided to remove a chemical called Azodicarbonamide from its bread after a public outcry on social media led by an influential blogger. In March, Vani Hari, who runs the blog FoodBabe.com, launched a petition for the removal of the chemical.

Azodicarbonamide, Hari explained, is used in yoga mats, shoe rubber and synthetic leather, the World Health Organization has linked it to respiratory issues, allergies and asthma, and it is banned as a food additive in Europe and Australia. Subway responded to the petition saying it would phase out the ingredient and announced last month that it has completely eliminated it from its bread.

4. Chipotle becomes the first fast food chain to tag GMOs

In the ongoing debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food, last year Denver, Colo.-based Chipotle Mexican Grill made what may turn out to be an important food history “first” in the United States.

The chain, which operates more than 1,450 restaurants across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and France, revealed that since March 2013, it has labeled all the ingredients in its menu items, including GMOs. This makes Chipotle the first American fast food chain to voluntarily display the presence of GMOs in its products.

5. Johnson & Johnson pledges to cleanse its products of harmful chemicals

In 2012, Johnson & Johnson made the landmark announcement that it would ban harmful chemicals from its products. The company has already made the pledge to remove toxic chemicals from its baby products by 2013.

Its new effort extends to its adult brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Clean & Clear. By the end of 2015, the company will be the first major company to remove harmful chemicals from its line of consumer products.

6. Seventh Generation calls for chemical reform

Late last year, leading sustainably-minded companies including Seventh Generation announced the launch of a coalition that urges Congress to update chemical safety laws. Called Companies for Safer Chemicals, Seventh Generation and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) are leading the coalition, which also includes brands like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farm, Aubrey Organics and Method.

Coalition members signed a declaration which asks “Congress to pass comprehensive and effective chemical safety reform legislation now.” The declaration also states that reform “must respect the rights of states to protect their residents when the federal government fails to do so, and require the Environmental Protection Agency to take fast action on the most harmful chemicals.”

7. General Mills introduces GMO-free Cheerios

Environmentalists called it a victory. General Mills, however, said it was just a recipe change.

In a blog post earlier this year, GMO Inside.org took credit for General Mills’ statement that it was making its regular Cheerios out of non-genetically modified sources (GMOs) – a change from its other Cheerios products, which do contain GMOs.

Although General Mills seemed to downplay the shift away from genetically modified sugar and cornstarch in its Cheerios cereal, the move is significant nonetheless and may signal the future of ingredient sourcing.

8. Boulder Brands removes GMO ingredients from Smart Balance spread

Say what you will about butter-like spreads, but at least now there's one on the market that doesn't contain GMOs. Earlier this year, Boulder Brands announced it would change the ingredients in its Smart Balance spread to eliminate GMOs.

“I’ve been in the food industry for 35 years. I have never seen a consumer issue come on this fast,” Stephen Hughes, chairman and chief executive of Boulder Brands, told the Los Angeles Times. “Forty-three percent of our consumers want to see a non-GMO Smart Balance.”

9. Colgate-Polmolive, Avon and others remove triclosan from cosmetics

Late last year, the FDA issued a proposal requiring companies that use the antimicrobial triclosan to prove the ingredient is safe. Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive have been reformulating to rid their products of triclosan – a suspected endocrine disruptor – for two years now, the Guardian reports.

Avon joined that list in April, announcing that it will begin phasing the chemical out of "the few" products in its line that include it. Although it remains to be seen how quickly these companies will remove the ingredient from their product lines, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

10. Kraft re-imagines (some of) its mac and cheese

Kraft announced late last year that it would revamp its character-shaped line of mac and cheese for 2014. The new versions will have six additional grams of whole grains, be lower in sodium and saturated fat, and will use spices instead of artificial food dyes to recreate the pasta's famous yellow-orange color, company spokeswoman Lynne Galia told CNN in November.

What not to do: Sigg called out on BPA BS

Back in 2007, water bottle manufacturer Sigg proudly proclaimed that its colorful reusable bottles were free of Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to reproductive health issues. There's only one problem: It wasn't true.

In a 2009 press release, CEO Steve Wasik, the very same man who told publications like Treehugger that Sigg's bottles did not contain BPA, explained that bottles manufactured prior to August 2008 have a water-based epoxy liner which contains trace amounts of BPA. He continued to explain that NOW all Sigg bottles are BPA free, which wasn't much consolation for consumers who had been drinking from their supposedly BPA-free bottles for years already.

So, let this be a lesson to brands big and small: If you're going to do transparency, it's probably a good idea to start by telling the truth.

Image credit: Flickr/carbonnyc

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is an editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared on the Huffington PostSustainable BrandsEarth911 and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit and director of TriplePundit's Brand Studio. She is based in Philadelphia and loves to travel, spend time outdoors and experiment with vegetarian recipes in the kitchen. Along with TriplePundit, her recent work can be found in Conscious Company and VICE’s Motherboard.

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