Artificial ingredients: Americans demanded change and got it, Canadians not so much

WATCH: Artificial ingredients and synthetic dyes are now being removed by some food companies in the U.S. because of consumer demands. But as Allison Vuchnich reports, those same changes aren’t happening here in Canada in many cases.

Major food companies are changing and reformulating products removing artificial ingredients – synthetic dyes, flavouring and preservatives – keeping up with consumer pressure.

“If Canadians can’t pronounce a particular ingredient they want to avoid it,” Sean Simpson, vice president of Ipsos, told Global News.

READ MORE: Making informed food decisions – Understanding ingredient lists

As some food companies ditch ingredients and reformulate, John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University, told Global News that companies realize there could be a risk to their brand if they do not change an ingredient consumers have a concern about. Even though the ingredients are approved and considered safe by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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“These are consumer goods companies, they are looking to make foods that people want to buy and want to eat,” said Coupland. “As they’re watching the consumer they’re doing their very best to learn what they think consumers want and deliver on those things, and spending some money on taking some ingredients out is something that they can deliver on.”

WATCH: John Coupland discusses why some companies are removing artificial ingredients and consumer demand.

You cannot talk about this movement, without talking about Vani Hari. A food force for change, Hari, self-described as “The Food Babe,” is an American blogger turned activist who uses social media to launch campaigns against food companies and ingredients. Her blog is read by millions and her book made it to The New York Times Best Seller list.

Hari’s lack of scientific training and approach has been highly criticized, but Hari is effective, with her “food babe army,” five million readers a month that she mobilizes behind her causes. In the past, Hari’s petitions against certain companies and ingredients have garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures; hard to ignore.

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Vani Hari
Vani Hari, also known as the Food Babe. Getty Images

Announcements about food changes happen almost weekly, but Global News has learned that some changes occurring in the United States are not being offered in Canada.

Subway is removing artificial flavours, colours and preservatives in Canada and the United States. Kraft is also removing artificial preservatives and synthetic colour, from its iconic blue box Kraft Dinner Original in Canada and changing in the U.S. as well.

McDonald’s announced a change with sourcing chicken free of human antibiotics in the U.S. but not in Canada. “While we recognize the leadership of our U.S. colleagues, at this time we have not made a decision to change our current approach with chicken,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman wrote in an email to Global News, “given Canada’s sourcing practices and supply chain are different to those in the U.S., we will be evaluating the implications of only sourcing chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine.”

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Americans will soon be drinking Diet Pepsi that does not contain aspartame, but in Canada aspartame remains. A PepsiCo Beverages Canada spokeswoman told Global News in an email, “There are no changes to any cola beverages in Canada at this time. As always, we will continue to listen closely to consumers’ requests and evolve our portfolio to meet the specific needs and preferences of Canadian consumers.”

Both Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are owned by Yum! Brands. Both restaurants are removing artificial flavours and colouring in the United States, but not in Canada.

A Global News Ipsos poll suggests not enough Canadians are demanding change. “They like the idea of knowing what’s in their food, three-quarters want to know what’s in their food they want to know where it comes from,” said Simpson, “but the other quarter think ignorance is bliss – ‘I am just going to trust that other people are looking out for me and the food I am eating is safe’.” Coupland believes if it works in the United States it will come to Canada, eventually.

“I suspect if they have a huge roaring success in the U.S. and people get very very excited about what they’re doing you’ll expect to see similar changes happening in Canada as well,” said Coupland.

Change is on some Canadian menus

But there are some Canadian companies leading the way.

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Pepperoni is Pizza Nova’s number one topping – going through 600,000 pounds a year.

“It’s important to change. If people are asking for products that are better for you, we need to look at that and move forward,” said Domenic Primucci, president of Pizza Nova.

WATCH: Pizza Nova’s Primucci discusses why the family-owned pizza chain decided to make a change to its number one topping and how other ingredients may be changing as well.

The family-run Ontario-based chain decided to become the first big pizza player to offer hormone free, antibiotic free, vegetable grain fed pepperoni. It took a year to source it, well worth it the company said.

“And we are going to add other proteins and other products that will be better for you throughout the next little while,” said Primucci, adding “we buy ingredients that are more expensive, because as the old saying goes – you pay for what you get.”


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