One of the great joys of being an adult is having the ability to treat yourself to a childhood favorite every now and again — like, for example, a box of Trix. However, if you’ve poured yourself a bowl of the fruity cereal recently, you may have found yourself wondering, “Wait a sec. Why did Trix change colors? My breakfast looks… different than I remember.” Indeed, that’s actually what a lot of folks on social media are currently musing about — but luckily, I have answers for you. It’s not just you; your beloved bowl of Trix is in fact a little less brightly colored than it may have been during your childhood.
But the reason why is a good one: General Mills has been in the process of removing all artificial colors and flavors from their cereals for the past several years. Naturally that’s impacted the look of each one — and in the case of Trix, it means that your bowl might look a little more subdued than you’re used to. Not everyone is wild about the change, but rest assured that General Mills is on it: Says a General Mills spokesperson to Bustle via email, "We have heard from many Trix fans that they miss the old product and we know consumers have differing food preferences. Providing consumers choices of what they would like to eat is very important to General Mills. We are working on a solution and will share additional information later this year."
General Mills first announced their plan to remove artificial colors and flavors from the brands’ cereal offerings way back in June of 2015 — and despite some recent reactions on social media, the plan arose from what people actually wanted. “Our cereal team is always listening to consumers about how we can improve our cereals and make them better,” the post on General Mills’ blog announcing the change states. “In recent years, we’ve heard that artificial ingredients aren’t what you are looking for in your bowl.”
“The change affects roughly 40 percent of our cereals over the next two to three years,” General Mills wrote at the time. “Currently, about 60 percent of our cereals are already free of artificial flavors or colors from artificial sources and have been that way for several years.” Back in 2015, the goal was to turn that 60 percent into 75 percent by January of 2016, and to 90 percent by the end of 2016.
In the case of Trix, the artificial dyes — and by “artificial,” General Mills means an ingredient “derived from something other than a plant, spice, or another substance found in nature” — have been swapped out for “fruit and vegetable juice and spice extracts.” The goal was to make sure that they were able to make the switch without adding any unwanted flavors. Said research and development manager Kate Gallager on General Mills’ blog in 2015, “We looked at a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and spices in different combinations trying to get the desired color. But we also worked to make a cereal that would not impart extra flavors that we weren’t looking for. Where we’ve landed, is using a pretty broad array of fruit and vegetable concentrates to make up those red and purple colors.” According to Trix's current list of ingredients, the cereal gets its many hues from "vegetable and fruit juice, turmeric extract, and annatto extract."
Indeed, it’s actually somewhat surprising that the Twitterverse has waited until now to start commenting on the change; Trix had already switched over to the natural colors and flavors version in January of 2016, according to Food Business News. What’s more, the initial launch was actually pretty successful — said Erika B. Smith, Ph.D., technology director for General Mills, in a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting in July of 2016, “We actually have some data, and I’m happy to report sales are great. They’ve exceeded our expectations. We are thrilled about that. We’ve got some excellent feedback from consumers.”
Artificial colors have had something of a checkered history. Some research has suggested a link between consuming additives like Red 40 and Yellow 5 and increased hyperactivity in children; a study out of the UK conducted in 2007 is often pointed to as evidence of this link, with parents having observed heightened levels of hyperactivity in their children after the kids were given drinks containing a mix of artificial dyes. However, the link is tenuous — in the 20017 study, teachers and independent observers did not report seeing the same increase in hyperactivity.
The bottom line is that right now, we don’t have enough information to state conclusively that certain artificial colors have certain effects on behavior or health. A lot more research is needed — but, as Andrew Adesman, who in 2011 was the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York’s chief of development and behavioral pediatrics, told NPR, “Some of the studies are difficult or imperfect in that they don’t always tease out specific chemicals in isolation. But there is this body of literature that does suggest that food colorings are not as benign as people have been led to believe.” Hence, the move that many people and brands are making away from artificial colors and towards ones derived from fruits, vegetables, and spices.
None of this is to say that all chemicals are bad, of course; indeed, as is often pointed out during these sorts of debates, water is a chemical, so it’s not as simple as just “natural equals good, chemical equals bad.” But honestly, food doesn’t have to be neon-colored in order to be fun, and I think Trix proves that point. Cerealously’s review of the updated version is quite favorable, applauding the fact that it actually tastes like fruit now — and hey, we still get to eat our breakfast from a box with a cartoon rabbit on it. I’ll take it!