Hershey Bar Makeover Points to Challenges in Replacing Artificial Ingredients

With so many of the major food companies revising ingredients and replacing artificial ones, The Hershey Company is joining the list. On June 17, the company announced that it is revising its namesake chocolate bar. After 120 years of using the same ingredients, Hershey will remove artificial flavors from the milk chocolate bar and replace them with “simple and easy-to-understand” ingredients. In fact, the chocolate bar giant's Hershey bar overhaul is part of a multi-year plan to revise all of its products with "simple and easy-to-understand," ingredients. The company is starting with its most popular and recognized brands. There’s no set date yet for the launch of the reformulated chocolate bar.

Such moves by large food companies to cater to healthier eating trends has been incredible, as it has taken only a few months for many of them to announce updates on signature formulations.“It all starts with the consumer changing,” stated Will Papa, Hershey's vice president and chief Research & Development officer to FoxBusiness. “They’re really involved in what they’re eating and they want to know the ingredients in their foods. And, we want to be out in front of that. Job one is the Hershey Bar. Then Hershey's Kisses and Reese's."

Papa says The Hershey Company has never used high-fructose corn syrup in the chocolate bar, but is eliminating other controversial ingredients such the emulsifier PGPR and vanillin, an artificial flavor that mimics the taste of vanilla. Such artificial ingredients actually help make the product easier to manufacture, especially when it comes to ensuring the consistent taste and texture. PGPR is an emulsifier derived from castor bean oil and is used to improve chocolate's processing characteristics. Emulsifiers typically keep fat and water from separating in a product.

That's the issue many food companies are experiencing with replacing ingredients like emulsifiers and other components that can enhance certain qualities of their products. Some of these ingredients are difficult to effectively replace in order to maintain properties such as texture, flavor and extended shelf life, and their budgets could take a big hit when adopting the more natural option. Artificial ingredients can actually help make products easier to manufacture, especially when it comes to ensuring consistent texture and taste. I'm not advocating all artificial ingredients, however. These revisions are certainly the right thing to do. But it could be that it's easier for large food manufacturers that have fatter budgets to make these changes than it is for small, family operated entrepreneurs and even some medium-volume producers to justify the costs associated with these moves?

In Hershey's case, it will replace the vanillin with real vanilla, although Papa didn't discuss how the company will change production to accommodate removing the emulsifier, which is typically used to ensure the fat and water don’t separate. He did say real vanilla often has slight variability between batches, so the company’s next challenge is “delivering the same product consistently.”

"We're replacing it with natural vanilla," Papa said. "Some of the artificial ingredients help make the products easier to manufacture, easier to mold and flow better. Historically, artificial ingredients can be more consistent, too. You can deliver more of a consistent product with them. So, the big challenge with real vanilla is its variability in delivering the same product consistently."

The company says it will provide consumers with full disclosure of the ingredients used in its products by listing a full glossary in its website. "If we can't remove a certain ingredient, we'll tell you why we can't on our website," Papa added. These projects take quite a bit of time to test product prototypes and ensure that flavors, aromas, textures and the look of a product don't shift, ingredients behave correctly and the net result is the same as the original product. Considering that Hershey is going to do this across its entire product lineup is impressive. But can these noble and morale efforts realistically be accomplished by all food companies? It's doubtful, though it will likely open up new opportunities for natural ingredient consultants, suppliers and developers. What do you think? Let us know your opinion.