Kraft is removing artificial preservatives from its most popular individually wrapped cheese slices, in the latest sign that companies are tweaking their recipes as food labels come under greater scrutiny.

The change affects the company's Kraft Singles in the full-fat American and White American varieties, which Kraft says account for the majority of brand's sales. Sorbic acid is being replaced by natamycin, which Kraft says is a "natural mold inhibitor."

Kraft's decision comes as a growing number of Americans try to stick to diets they feel are natural. That has prompted a number of food makers to change their recipes.

Last week, for instance, Subway said it was removing a chemical from its bread after a popular food blogger named Vani Hari started a petition noting the ingredient is also used in yoga mats.

The ingredient, azodicarbonamide, is used by a wide variety of chains, including McDonald's and Starbucks, but Hari said she targeted Subway because of its healthy food image.

Even though such ingredients are permitted by the Food and Drug Administration, being able to tout a product as being free of them can be a selling point. Kraft, for example, plans to begin airing TV ads near the end of February pointing out that its Kraft Singles cheese "begins with milk" and are now "made with no artificial preservatives."

The ads show cartoon cows grazing in a pasture, with a milk truck driving past.

Not all varieties affected

The new Kraft packages, which began appearing on supermarket shelves in recent weeks, also come stamped with a red circle noting they have no artificial preservatives or flavours. Kraft says its cheese slices haven't used artificial flavours for many years but that it just recently decided to advertise that aspect of the product.

"Consumers are looking for those less artificial cues and messages," said Gavin Schmidt, manager of cheese research and development at Kraft. "Those messages are more meaningful to consumers than they have been in the past."

Schmidt says the change took about five years to perfect because Kraft wanted to ensure the product's taste and shelf life remained the same. He declined to provide details but said it wasn't as simple as swapping out an artificial preservative and replacing it with a natural one.

"There's a little more to it than that," he said.

Schmidt said Kraft is testing the removal of artificial preservatives from its other Kraft Singles varieties but that it wanted to start with the most popular lines first. The changes do not affect Kraft Singles that are two per cent fat, fat-free or other full-fat varieties.

Kraft Foods Group, based in Northfield, Ill., also owns several other food brands, including Oscar Mayer, Jell-O, Planters and Maxwell House.

Going natural

Some other recent changes food companies have made in response to customer demand for healthier, more natural foods:

Pizza Hut says it's in the process of removing dinner rolls served at select restaurants that contain azodicarbonamide. Spokesman Doug Terfehr says the chain's new head of research & development noticed the ingredient and decided to do away with it. He said the swapping out of the rolls should be complete in about three weeks.

Chick-fil-A said in December that it was making a number of changes to its recipes to remove high-fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes from its sauces and dressings. The company had also been targeted by the food blogger Vani Hari, who singled out Subway for its use of chemicals, but said its changes were in the works for several years.

Kraft said in October that it would remove artificial dyes from three varieties of macaroni and cheese that come in kid-friendly shapes. The company said the decision wasn't a response to a petition by Hari that had requested it stop using artificial dyes.

PepsiCo said early last year it was removing brominated vegetable oil from Gatorade. The company said the decision was a response to consumer demand in general, rather than a petition on by a Mississippi teenager that asked for the removal. 

Source: The Associated Press