By Kendra Hamilton
Loblaws is the first Canadian retailer to go public with an entire food product line that has no artificial colour or flavour.
As of today, the complete President’s Choice portfolio of more than 4,000 food products is officially being coloured and flavoured with natural alternatives, such as fruit and vegetable derivatives.
“It was about staying true to our standards and cleaning up the brand portfolio,” said Andrew Gurgula, product developer at Lowblaw Companies Limited.
Gurgula said since 2012 an in-house team of food product developers with backgrounds in culinary and food science along with a team of chefs at Loblaws have been taking artificial colours and flavours out of PC products.
“There’s been a lot of reworking of formulas and tasting of recipes and looking at viable options with respect to different technologies that exist from an ingredient perspective,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot and overall we’re happy with the products we’ve launched to date.”
Gurgula said the decision to do away with artificial ingredients was also based on consumer need and want.
But does doing away with artificial colours and flavours really matter?
Experts in the nutrition field say that over the last three to four years having natural, organic and local food options have become higher in demand. However simply removing artificial colour and flavor from processed foods does not make that food much healthier.
“There’s nothing inherently dangerous about artificial colours and flavours,” said Abby Langer, Registered Dietician and nutrition blogger for the Huffington Post.
“It’s another way of health washing,” she said. “To slap a label on a product that makes a claim but distracts from the reality of the situation that this product is still not healthy.”
The most well known research on the negative effects of artificial colour is that it causes hyperactivity and behavioural changes in children, said Langer. There is no firm research that confirms that however and most of the evidence is anecdotal, she says.
Langer said she does think what Loblaws is doing is great because there are children who have sensitivities to food dyes and the less artificial food products they have in them the better. She also says there are more important aspects to healthy eating than eliminating artificial colours and flavours.
“You have to consider Loblaws’ primary demographic, which is moms,” she said. “And Loblaws is pretty expensive so they are pretty savvy well-read moms. They’re the first demographic that’s going to complain about their kids being hyper from dyes.”
But “a cookie is a cookie,” she says regardless of whether it is artificially or naturally coloured and flavoured.
“Any food that needs to be coloured or flavoured at all is processed and you probably shouldn’t be eating a lot of them anyways.”
Langer says it is good to stay away from artificial colour and flavour but it is most important to read food labels in order to make healthy choices for children and adults.
“If the list of ingredients is as long as your arm and there are a bunch of words in there you don’t understand then put that food back on the shelf,” she said.