Consumer demand for healthier and more natural ingredients is prompting a growing number of corporate giants, including Hershey and McDonald's, to overhaul iconic products they sell, a trend industry watchers say is just getting started. The shift toward simpler ingredients has gained momentum the past few years as people become more interested in knowing what's in the food they eat and don't hesitate to air their concerns on social media. Major retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Whole Foods, cognizant of what consumers want, have pushed food producers to make sweeping changes to the products they supply to them.
Food manufactures have started responding by replacing artificial colors and flavors with natural ingredients to create what the industry calls a "cleaner label." Other companies have removed genetically modified ingredients from their products, supplied pork and chicken raised under conditions viewed by some as more humane, and shunned animals given antibiotics also administered to humans.
Sophie Ann Terrisse, chief executive of the brand-management firm STC Associates, said companies unwilling or unable to find new ways to produce or supply products risk falling behind competitors keeping up with changing consumer demand.
"The consumer is pretty much in the driver's seat," said Terrisse, who has worked with Johnson & Johnson and Weight Watchers. "A consumer can make or break a brand with a post, with a review, with a comment and an idea. Any brand has to listen today harder than they've ever listened."