How Social Media Bullied the Food Industry Into Being Better In 2013

In the battle against Big Food, score one for the social media masses. From Cargill's labeling of "pink slime" to Chick-fil-A ditching artificial dye in soup, social media campaigns have spurred shifts from several major food companies in 2013, the New York Times reports. Who says bullying is always bad? "Companies are reluctant to admit a direct connection between the crusades of consumers ... and their decisions to tweak products, but the link seems clear," the Times says.

Perhaps the biggest shift this year has been in the use of artificial food colorings. Following online pressure from "Food Babe" Vani Hari and others, Chick-fil-A eliminated artificial dye Yellow No. 5 from its chicken soup this year (the chain is also testing a peanut oil that doesn't contain butane-derivative TBHQ and sauces that don't use high-fructose corn syrup). In November, Kraft quietly announced that it would no longer use Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 dyes in certain macaroni and cheese products starting in 2014. And Mars is seeking FDA approval to switch the petroleum-based dye it uses for blue M&M's to a blue dye derived from spirulina.

Other ingredient victories this year: In January 2013, Pepsi said it would rid Gatorade of brominated vegetable oil. And Cargill recently announced that it would label any ground beef containing "finely textured beef," aka pink slime.

"Companies are reluctant to admit a direct connection between the crusades of consumers ... and their decisions to tweak products, but the link seems clear," the Times notes.

Social media allows brands to quantify how big a particular problem or demand is, "how rapidly it’s spreading and how influential the people hollering are,” as Matthew Egol, a partner at Booz & Company, told the Times. And it gives food companies the tools to assess and respond to consumer complaints much more rapidly, leading to shorter time gaps between negative feedback and action. Let's hope we continue to see more of this responsiveness and responsibility from food giants in 2014.