Think of your favorite comfort foods from childhood. It's likely that boxed macaroni and cheese makes an appearance, as well as fruit-flavored cereal of some kind that essentially tasted like sugar-covered sugar. Throw in some fruit snacks from your lunchbox for good measure.
Should you ever need them in a moment of nostalgia, depression, or intoxication a couple of decades later in the present day. all of these things are still widely available. But soon, many of them are getting a makeover. And they will shine just a little less bright.
That's because several major food producers are currently planning to change the way that they color some of these products, and the vibrant blues, greens, pinks, yellows, and even whites that we're accustomed to will be a thing of the past.
According to the Chicago Tribune, some of the items affected will be the mozzarella and candy-studded cookies at Panera, and the currently near-fluorescent banana wax peppers at Subway. General Mills has taken the lead when it comes to making these changes in the cereal industry, switching to all-natural coloring for Trix cereal, reducing its current rainbow palette to a toned down spectrum of yellow, red, orange, and purple.
And earlier this year, Kraft announced that it would be changing the coloring of its classic mac and cheese, opting for turmeric and paprika coloring—which could alter the flavor slightly—instead of Yellow 5, while under the influence of the popular but questionable activist blogger The Food Babe. The reason for the shift: at least one scientific study in the past has linked Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 to to hyperactivity, a "negative impact on children's ability to learn," and "long-term problems" such as skin rashes and asthma.
In addition to turmeric, other new, naturally sourced dyes will be made from berry juices and beet- and radish-based colorings.
One crucial element: maintaining enough recognition for customers that their associations between certain colors and their corresponding flavors won't be overly disturbed by the changes. After all, what's a purple fruit snack if not grape? Will the very existence of "blue raspberry" candies be eradicated?
Not necessarily. Replacement blue and green dyes made from algae and spirulina are currently being tested and marketed. Unfortunately, they weren't good enough for General Mills.
"We haven't been able to get that same vibrant color," Kate Gallager, General Mills' cereal developer, recently told the Associated Press.
Concerned parents and a general push away from processed foods are two of the main reasons why natural dyes will likely penetrate even more products in the next few years. After all, you've got to give the people what they want—or think they want.
But for now, brands are just hoping that consumers will bite.