10 Ways Big Food Is Changing to Meet Consumer Demand

By: Erica Berry (and FERNnews)  |  January/February 2016
As consumers are looking for more transparency when it comes to their food, some of the biggest companies in the food industry are making changes to be healthier and more relevant.
America’s top 25 food and beverage companies have lost $18 billion in market share since 2010, as consumers angle for eats with higher levels of transparency. Big Food responded in 2015 by promising change—and lots of it. We analyzed 10 recent announcements from major food companies to see what’s relevant and what’s next.
1. McDonald’s Eggs Go Cage-Free
The buyer of 2 billion eggs annually will use only “cage-free” eggs in the U.S. and Canada by 2025. Currently, about 90 percent of all U.S. eggs come from caged chickens, so the president of the Humane Society called this “a watershed moment.” McDonald’s follows in the foot­steps of Nestlé, Burger King, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Panera Bread and Taco Bell have also recently pledged to go cage-free. The next step would be to ensure that hens have outdoor access.
2. Tyson to Eliminate Human Antibiotics Use in Chicken
In response to findings that antibiotic use in meat production is linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, America’s biggest poultry producer will stop using medically important antibiotics in its chicken by September 2017. Meanwhile, Perdue has already nixed all antibiotics in over 50 percent of its chicken. Tyson’s pledge came out after McDonald’s (one of the largest chicken buyers in the U.S.) announced its own ban on antibiotics in chicken. Tyson is also the largest and second-largest producer of beef and pork, but hasn’t made changes in those meats (yet).
3. Subway Cuts Artificial Stuff and Antibiotics
First, Subway promised to remove all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives by 2017. Then it came under fire from environmental group Friends of the Earth for its antibiotic policy. Subway since pledged to ban antibiotics in all meat over the next 10 years, starting with chicken in March.
4. Panera Releases “No No List” of Ingredients
Panera will ban more than 150 artificial ingredients by the end of 2016 with its “No No List.” Some 40 percent of the items aren’t used by the chain, but were included as a ban on future use. While there isn’t much hard evidence of health risks for all of the items, removing trans-fatty oils and questionable caramel color is a good move.
5. Kraft Removes Artificial Dye from Mac & Cheese
The neon orange in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese now comes from paprika, annatto and turmeric instead of Yellow #5 and #6. Research links synthetic food colors to hyperactivity in kids, so up next maybe Kraft can find natural colors for unnaturally vibrant Jell-O and Kool-Aid.
6. Nestlé to Ban Artificial Colors
The world’s largest food company nixed artificial colors and flavors in 250 products, like Butterfinger and Baby Ruth. In question—will Nestlé expand this across all 6,000 brands it owns?
7. Chipotle Nixes GMO Ingredients
Because of potential environmental and health risks of GMOs, Chipotle is taking the cautious road by banning GM ingredients from its tortillas and eliminating GM oils. Critics have said that Chipotle should source meat from animals not fed GMOs and ban sodas made with GM high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
8. GMOs Removed from Cheerios
Oats are never grown from GM seeds so this decision only impacted its sourcing of sugar and cornstarch. General Mills’s other cereals, however, still rely on GM corn and soy. The Center for Food Safety says General Mills’s demand for non-GM crops has the power to change the way those crops are grown. Plus, all its versions of Cheerios are GMO-free in Europe.
9. Taco Bell to Cut Artificial Ingredients, Trans Fats
There’s a big loophole: this only applies “where possible,” excluding beverages and co-branded items. So the bestselling Doritos Locos Tacos is unaffected.
10. Yoplait Cuts Sugar by 25%
The resulting 18 grams per 150-calorie cup is still too much sugar, but the company has a good track record for following through on promises. It has already eliminated HFCS, aspartame and dairy from cows given growth hormones.
Erica Berry was named a 2013 Udall Scholar for her commitment to environmental journalism. This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture and environmental health.