CHICAGO — General Mills, Inc. tried out the new Trix cereal featuring naturally sourced colors on test groups before launching the product at retail. One group immediately noticed what colors were missing.
|Erika B. Smith, Ph.D., technology director for General Mills|
“Trust me, that is the first thing the kids say, ‘What did you do with my cereal? Where’s the blue and green?’” said Erika B. Smith, Ph.D., technology director for General Mills.
The company still is searching for suitable blue and green options from natural sources for the cereal. The new Trix cereal, which contains no synthetic colors, launched in January. The ingredient list includes the color sources of vegetable and fruit juice, turmeric extract, and annatto extract.
“We actually have some data, and I’m happy to report sales are great,” Dr. Smith said in a July 19 presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Chicago. “They’ve exceeded our expectations. We are thrilled about that. We’ve got some excellent feedback from consumers.”
She said the new yellow color closely matches the old synthetic yellow color, and the new orange color is similar to the old one. General Mills is “really delighted” with the new purple color in Trix. The naturally sourced red still has issues with pH, heat and shear.
The Trix transformation comes after General Mills last year decided to change its entire cereal line to be free of flavors and colors perceived as artificial.
In talking to consumers, Minneapolis-based General Mills found they have a negative association with chemicals and additives in general.
“Anything with an abbreviation needs to go,” Dr. Smith said while listing BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) as an example of one ingredient General Mills is trying to take out of its products.
General Mills must retain quality in its products while investigating ways to change or eliminate certain preservatives, flavors, emulsifiers, artificial colors, sweeteners, leavening agents, dough conditioners, fats and oils.
“If we make these changes, and it doesn’t taste good, or it doesn’t last over its intended shelf life, the consumer is not going to buy it again,” Dr. Smith said.
Naturally sourced color especially can be a problem for cereal.
“Colors, quite frankly, make breakfast fun for kids,” she said.
Color ingredient suppliers have some opportunities to help General Mills improve its cereal items, she said.
For one area, color suppliers and flavor suppliers might work together to improve the taste of cereal with colors sourced from nature.
“This product (Trix) needs to be very bright and intensely colored,” she said. “So we have to use a lot of (naturally sourced) colors. They can bring with them some off flavors.”
Because of the high use, naturally sourced colors are expensive and an investment. Color suppliers could work on bringing down the cost in use, Dr. Smith said. The colors also may have an enhanced stability at acid and neutral pH conditions and in high heat conditions.
Processing aids, although they might not appear on the cereal’s ingredient list, are a concern. General Mills wants to be “clean label” all the way through to the processing aids.
“If they are using emulsifiers or antioxidants, we need to know what those are,” Dr. Smith said of color suppliers.
While work still needs to be done, Trix cereal has been a success so far.“We got the taste right, and it’s fun enough for kids, even without the blue and green,” Dr. Smith said.