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The Real Deal Behind Kraft’s “New” Mac & Cheese

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

 

Kraft made headlines a year ago when it announced changes to its famed, kid-favorite macaroni and cheese. The company vowed to replace artificial dyes yellow 5 and 6 with natural ingredients – paprika, turmeric and the seed extract annatto – and to eliminate artificial flavors and preservatives.

Now, nearly a year later, Kraft has unveiled a massive marketing campaign for what the company calls the “world’s largest ‘blind taste test’.” Kraft released the new formulation in December, and in the months that followed, claimed to sell more than 50 million boxes while satisfied customers #didntnotice.

The ad campaign is smart and appealing: better ingredients, same taste, imperceptible change. Some journalists and bloggers have latched onto the idea, and Kraft hopes shoppers will, too. The company has struggled financially for years and merged with ketchup giant Heinz in 2015.

It’s not the only company trying to keep up. As shoppers demand more natural foods and transparent product labels, manufacturers are slowly, but increasingly, responding. Hershey’s, Mars Inc., Nestle and Campbell Soup have announced similar plans to improve their products, as have fast food or fast casual restaurants such as Subway, Panera and Chipotle.

At EWG, we know that natural foods can be just as delicious and satisfying as artificial alternatives – often more so, and healthier, too. We celebrate companies that prove it.

But has Kraft successfully done so? Does the new mac and cheese deliver on its promise to kids and families who love it?

The ads claim the new product tastes the same and cite sales figures as evidence. Yet the reality of food distribution makes us wonder how many consumers have actually tried the new product. Grocery stores – and our kitchen cabinets – can take months to use up and replace existing inventory. And do the taste testers in Kraft’s commercials mean what they say? Your guess (or skepticism) is as good as ours.

More importantly, is the new mac and cheese any better for us?

The answer is no, not really. The old Kraft Mac & Cheese scored a 6 in EWG’s Food Scores database, which rates thousands of products on nutrition, ingredient and processing concerns. In addition to artificial colors, the old formulation contained a significant amount of saturated fat and sugar and an excessive amount of sodium – nearly 40 percent of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intake per serving.

The new Kraft Mac & Cheese still scores the same 6. While Kraft’s reformulation removed artificial colors and slightly lowered the sugar content (from 7 grams to 6 grams per serving), it did nothing to address the saturated fat or high sodium content. And when it comes down to it, these factors are the most significant for both kids and adults.

So if your family still craves some of this creamy, cheesy treat – and let’s be honest, we all probably do – reach instead for one of these healthier options: Pastariso Yellow Cheddar Mac & Cheeze, Back to Nature Organic Macaroni & Cheese, or even Kraft’s own Organic Macaroni & Cheese.

And keep showing companies like Kraft what’s important to you and your family. Search EWG’s Food Scores for products your family loves and put your dollars behind companies that support your health as much as their bottom line.

 

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