To steal from the Bob Dylan songbook, the ingredient lists, they are a changing. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Flowers Foods, Inc., Panera Bread Co. and Kraft Foods Group, Inc. all made ingredient declarations this year. Their plans deal with such issues as simpler ingredient lists and non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. ingredients and with such grain-based foods as bread, tortillas, and macaroni and cheese.
Combined, the four companies had sales/revenue of more than $28 billion in their most recently completed fiscal years.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Denver, on April 27 said it had achieved its goal of using only non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. ingredients to make its food in U.S. restaurants.
“Though many countries have already restricted or banned the use of G.M.O. crops, it’s clear that a lot of research is still needed before we can truly understand all of the implications of widespread G.M.O. cultivation and consumption,” said Steve Ells, founder and co-chief executive officer of Chipotle. “While that debate continues, we decided to move to non-G.M.O. ingredients.”
Chipotle took some flak for its decision, and not only from food industry sources. An editorial headline appearing April 29 in The Washington Post read, “Chipotle’s G.M.O. gimmick is hard to swallow.” The editorial pointed out other American corporations removed non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. ingredients from their products.
“Our point is that no one should confuse any of these companies’ behavior with real corporate responsibility,” the editorial said. “That would require companies to push back against the orchestrated fear of G.M.O.s instead of validating it.”
The editorial cited a Pew Research Center study showing confusion surrounding non-bioengineered ingredients. While 37% of U.S. adults thought bioengineered foods were safe to eat, 88% of scientists thought they were safe, according to the survey.
“Some people believe G.M.O. is the worst thing that has ever been invented,” said Steve Peirce, president of Ribus, Inc., St. Louis. “Other people believe that is what is going to feed the world. The F.D.A. has said it is safe.”
Ribus recently introduced a “Clean Labels Essentials Guide” that investigates non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. ingredients, organic ingredients and natural ingredients.
“My personal opinion is, if you were to label G.M.O.s, there are so many products that contain corn or soybeans and their derivatives, I do believe that after a couple years, somewhere between many and most consumers are going to become de-sensitized to that label, and it’s going to become a non-issue,” Mr. Peirce said.
Bioengineered/G.M.O. varieties make up a majority of soybean and corn crops, two commodities used by Chipotle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 30, 2014, said biotech varieties made up 93% of the corn crop planted in the country in 2014 and 94% of the soybean crop planted.
Chipotle said its suppliers had planted non-G.M.O./non-bioengineered corn varieties. Chipotle had used soybean oil to cook chips and taco shells, and soybean oil appeared in some of its recipes. The company replaced soybean oil with sunflower oil to cook its chips and taco shells and used rice bran oil for other recipes.
While the area planted for soybeans in the United States was nearly 85 million acres in 2014, the area planted for sunflower was about 1.7 million acres, according to the U.S.D.A. However, Chipotle’s decision to rely heavily on sunflower oil has yet to be followed by a huge jump in the oil’s price. Sunflowerseed oil, Midwest, was selling at 65c per lb on May 15, which was unchanged from the April 24 price.
Sunflower oil received positive reviews in the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey as 56% of Americans rated sunflower oil as either “extremely healthful” or “somewhat healthful,” which was up from 49% in 2009.
Chipotle said tortillas are the only food item on its menu that contains additives. The company is working on a new system that will allow the dough to rise slowly and eliminate the need for dough conditioners.
Waiting on Nature’s Own
Nature’s Own bread also currently contains dough conditioners. Although it has yet to name the ingredients it will take out, Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., plans to reduce the number of ingredients in Nature’s Own bread to 14 from 26. Bradley K. Alexander, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, spoke about the ingredient changes April 14 at an investor’s day presentation held at the New York Stock Exchange.
Examining a list of “unacceptable ingredients” from Whole Foods Market shows what ingredients are more likely to come out of Nature’s Own bread. The Whole Foods’ “unacceptable ingredients” currently in Nature’s Own bread include calcium peroxide, calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate, DATEM (diacetyl tartaric and fatty acid esters of mono- and diglycerides) and sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate (SSL).
Ingredient suppliers this year have promoted alternatives to such ingredients. Mr. Peirce said Ribus offers Nu-Bake, a rice bran extract that works as a dough conditioner and may be used to replace SSL and DATEM.
Corbion Caravan, Lenexa, Kas., recently introduced Pristine 2000, a dough conditioner that has been shown to reduce or replace “unfriendly chemical additives,” according to the company. Corbion Caravan, as well as several other ingredient suppliers, promoted “clean label” ingredients at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech in March in Chicago.
AB Mauri North America, St. Louis, promoted ways to replace azodicarbonamide (ADA). Cain Food Industries, Dallas, promoted Tru CL, a dough conditioner that has been shown to replace ADA, DATEM, SSL and CSL. Essential 1019 from Montreal-based Lallemand is a dough conditioner that replaces ADA. MightyStrong brand ingredients from Watson Inc., West Haven, Conn., have been shown to replace ADA or, at higher levels, chemical dough conditioners such as SSL and ethoxylated products.
ADA and DATEM are both in the list of ingredients that Panera Bread Co., St. Louis, has eliminated or intends to remove from its Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread Co. bakery-cafe food menus by the end of 2016.
“We are not scientists,” said Ron Shaich, founder and c.e.o. of Panera Bread Co. “We are people who know and love food, and who believe that the journey to better food starts with simpler ingredients. And to turn that belief into meaningful action, we consulted third-party scientists and experts to compile a list of common artificial additives that we are going to do without.”
Cowen and Company, a financial services firm based in New York, on May 19 raised its rating on Panera Bread Co. to “outperform” from “market perform.” Cowen and Company said it continued to be bullish on the sales driving aspects of Panera’s 2.0 program.
“In addition, we are bullish on sales initiatives outside of 2.0 in the back half of the year, including a new marketing campaign starting in June that we expect to highlight the introduction of ‘clean ingredient’ menu items ...,” Cowen and Company said.
Kraft Foods Group, Northfield, Ill., plans to eliminate synthetic colors such as yellow No. 5 and yellow No. 6 in its Kraft Macaroni & Cheese by January 2016. Replacing them will be colors derived from natural sources like paprika, annatto and turmeric.
Scientists for DDW, Louisville, Ky., have done research on which naturally-sourced colorings provide the best potential for color retention.
“Annatto and paprika, which contribute a yellow to orange hue, belong to a classification of colors called carotenoids,” said Jody Renner-Nantz, senior application scientist for DDW. “Turmeric offers a brilliant yellow option that relates to the hue and intensity of yellow No. 5.
“Class 1 caramels are unique because they deliver quite a yellow hue relative to other three caramel classes. In terms of cost, caramel would be the least expensive color option. However, caramel alone cannot deliver the yellow-orange hue of a cheese sauce.”
Promoting label changes
After stripping out non-bioengineered ingredients or synthetic colors, food companies may wish to alert consumers. The companies should remember “clean label” is an industry term and not a consumer term, according to the Ribus guide. The guide cited a November 2014 survey from Nutrition Business Journal that revealed 47% of consumers had never heard of the “clean label” term and another 32% had heard of the term but did not
Mr. Peirce said clean label is an elusive term in that 15 or 20 different categories may fall under it. It may mean free-from products such as ones that are gluten-free or soy-free, he said, or it may mean ingredients that consumers understand.
Consumers may relate more to non-G.M.O. promotions. Sales of non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. products grew 10% to $190 million in the United States in 2014, according to preliminary estimates from the Nutrition Business Journal.
Organic is another option. U.S. organic food sales in 2014 rose 11% to $35.9 billion, according to the Washington-based Organic Trade Association.