Nestlé has announced that it will remove all artificial colors and flavorings from its sugar confectionery in the US as the category faces increased calls for more natural alternatives. The multinational corporation has become the first major American manufacturer to ban such additives, pledging to remove artificial ingredients from more than 250 of its products by the end of 2015. For example, Nestlé, which claims the changes will not affect taste, said that it will use annatto, a natural yellow coloring made from the seeds of the achiote tree, instead of the artificial colors Red 40 and Yellow 5. Doreen Ida, president of Nestlé’s American confectionery and snacks division, said that the decision was due to growing demand from customers for foods with natural ingredients. In a press release issued by Nestlé, Ida said, “We know that candy consumers are interested in broader food trends around fewer artificial ingredients. As we thought about what this means for our candy brands, our first step has been to remove artificial flavors and colors without affecting taste or increasing price.”

This decision builds on a similar move by Nestlé UK in 2012, when the confectioner removed all artificial ingredients from products in the country. The company began by removing artificial colors from products aimed at children, but widened the scope to include its entire portfolio amid strong consumer sentiment. Similar initiatives were then taken in Canada and Western Europe before the confectioner committed to more natural options in the US. This strategy now has considerable appeal in the country as around one quarter of non-chocolate confectionery users in the US cite natural ingredients as an important characteristic when purchasing products , according to Mintel’s Sugar Confectionery and Breath Fresheners – US 2014 report. US consumers also allow themselves to indulge more frequently on confectionery made with natural ingredients.

42% of sugar confectionery users agree that products have too many artificial flavors or ingredients

Free-from innovation lags in the US, with natural brands leading the way

Wider demand for natural options is reflected in global innovation activity. In 2014, 12% of confectionery launches claimed to contain no additives/preservatives, up from 10% in 2010. Developments have, however, been much slower in the US, despite 42% of sugar confectionery users agreeing that products have too many artificial flavors or ingredients, according to Mintel. In 2014, 6% of confectionery products had a no additive/preservative claim in the country, down from 7% in 2013. Few of the category heavyweights have innovated in this area over the last few years, and none of the leading sugar confectionery brands tapped into this positioning in 2014. However, a limited number of national retailers caught on and developed private label alternatives.

The fact is, most confectionery launched in the US without artificial ingredients have been developed by specialist natural brands. While all-natural products remain niche globally, they are slightly more popular in the US, accounting for 3% of category launches in 2014. Examples of all-natural confectionary include YumEarth Organics – which boasts a range of 100% natural confectionery containing no artificial colors or dyes, and using only “plant-derived ingredients grown on sustainable family farms” – and Surf Sweets by TruSweets – which claims to offer “organically sweetened” confectionery that is also free from corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, and 10 of the most common allergens.

‘Clean label’ comes to confectionery

Despite the limited investment made by major players in the US, the desire for natural and pure products is likely to define global innovation in the category for the foreseeable future. Mintel research shows that consumers are increasingly demanding products with authentic real ingredients. While Nestlé’s announcement is the most high profile manifestation of this trend to date, the International Sweet and Biscuits Fair, held in Germany at the beginning of February 2015, also highlighted the growing role of ‘clean label’ products. Two of the largest confectionery players in the US have also had to clarify their policies towards artificial ingredients following Nestlé’s announcement, which highlights how important the issue has become. Mars said that it is exploring natural alternatives, but sees no safety concerns with artificial colors and flavors. The Hershey Company, meanwhile, revealed in early March that it will shift to “simple ingredients” for its Milk Chocolate and Kisses products by the end of the year.

Mintel’s Director of Insight, Food and Drink, Marcia has been with Mintel since 2000. Her expertise center on a number of areas in confectionery and snacks. She also has a deep understanding of consumer demographics, having previously served as an associate editor for American Demographics magazine. Before joining Mintel, Marcia headed her own consulting company which focused on consumer behavior and product innovation in a wide range of industries.

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