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Leon Kaye headshot

Mars Promises to End the Use of Artificial Food Colorings

By Leon Kaye

Do you like to fill your living room candy jar with different colored M&Ms based on the time of year? Well, brace yourself, because the candy that melts in your mouth, not in your hands, is about to undergo a “natural” makeover.

This week, Mars announced that all of its food products will be free of artificial colors within five years. Chocolate, gum, candy, beverages and, yes, anything fit for human consumption will no longer have any artificial coloring whatsoever by early 2021.

According to the company, Mars is phasing-in this change as “part of a commitment to meet evolving consumer preferences.” The company insists that health concerns were not behind this shift. Nevertheless that must have crossed the minds of many within Mars' headquarters, even though the science behind artificial colors and human health is inconclusive depending on which source you check. The medical community says research does not paint a clear picture; other organizations say food dyes have the potential to wreak havoc on human health.

Mars claims that most of its food products are free of artificial colors already, and a cursory check of its brand portfolio backs up the company’s statement. (Although, we must ask, how do they get the coconut in those Bounty chocolate bars so brilliantly white?) Of course, the total amount of artificial colors used in Starburst and Skittles candy alone could probably turn all of the Great Lakes into one giant happy rainbow.

Concern over food dyes in Mars’ products has not had an impact on the company’s sales here in North America or in Europe, where regulators tend to be far stricter than their American cousins. Nevertheless, the shifts in consumer demand are real, and the company is wise to get ahead on this front.

So far, Mars has been mum on how it is going to extract artificial coloring out of its complex supply chain. The company also has not said what kind of natural food dyes it will use. The latter presents a huge challenge: After all, Christmas or Valentine’s Day without red M&M’s would be like Easter without pastel-colored goodies. As for those adorable red candies, the company could consider carmine dye, but that coloring is derived from cochineal insects, which would enrage the vegan community.  Campari stopped using that dye in its timeless aperitif after almost 150 years. Starbucks did the same a few years ago after many consumers complained.

Questions over what natural dyes, if any, will be used in its food products aside, Mars is building on its track record of changing its business practices to fit in with the times. The $33 billion food giant has also hedged its bets on clean energyreduced its overall water consumption; and transitioned to sourcing only sustainable palm oil for its food products.

Image credit: Wiki Commons (Evan-Amos)

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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