Why tick off consumers when nothing is really different?
The Internet has become increasingly enraged over Trix cereal’s now muted appearance. Ever since General Mills officially made good on their promise to cut artificial colors, Twitter has blown up with enraged original Trix lovers. Noticing their cereal’s lack of its usual vibrancy, commenters have accused General Mills of ruining their childhood—often peppering their rants with more, ahem, colorful language. General Mills is just one one of many major companies along with Kraft Heinz, Subway, Nestle USA, Mars Inc., and more that have committed to omitting artificial dyes and preservatives from their products, and many have been met with the same frustration expressed by Trix consumers.
OK, I get it. People hate change, even more so when it comes to messing with nostalgic food. But without numbered color dyes, our favorite processed foods instantly become healthy, right? It means we can eat them all day, every day while our high cholesterol safely plummets? Not so much. Turns out, Trix isn’t really any healthier. The notion that junk food can taste the same and suddenly be good for you is mostly a marketing scheme.
"These companies are desperate to keep parents buying these really unhealthy foods... and now they can trumpet ‘no artificial dyes’ as if that makes it a health food," Michele Simon, a public-health attorney and president of Eat Drink Politics, a food-industry consulting firm, told the Washington Post when General Mills first broke the news. Indeed, many artificial dyes have been proven toxic—only seven are are ruled safe to use today, but research suggests that number could drop (the still-approved dyes are likely carcinogenic, and can cause hypersensitivity reactions and behavioral problems) and that companies may be better off using plan-based dye in food. However, omitting dye doesn’t change high levels of sugar, trans fats, and massive portions. Subway may have removed azodicarbonamide from its bread and Yellow Number 5 from its banana peppers, but it’s still cheaper to buy a Subway Footlong sandwich than it is to buy most meal-sized salads.
It’s not that the companies are necessarily claiming that their foods are now healthy. In fact, when Kraft stopped coloring its classic orange mac and cheese with dyes in favor of paprika, annatto, and turmeric, they didn’t make a big announcement until well after the new product hit the shelves. 50 million sold boxes later, they released the ad campaign touting the tagline, “It’s changed. But it hasn’t.” Following the ads, sales hit 80 million boxes in three months. All signs point to the company hoping to boost sales by celebrating the change. It should be pointed out, however, that Trix wasn’t able to adopt the Kraft model of a “#didntnotice” campaign. There’s no denying that the General Mills cereal looks muted.
At the same time, I can’t fault the companies for trying. Since General Mills made their commitment to natural colors in 2015, the wellness craze has intensified. It must be harder than ever to peddle sugary cereal. Though judging by these Twitter reactions, it’s clear not everyone wants to see health realized in their cereal. Regardless, dull Trix are to here stay, so may I suggest switching to Lucky Charms? General Mills has admitted they cannot yet make an all-natural version of Lucky Charms and doubled down on a marshmallows-only box sweepstakes.