A year ago, General Mills introduced all-natural versions of its breakfast cereals, after realizing consumers “don’t want colors with numbers in their food anymore.” Artificial ingredients vanished from Cheerios, Golden Grahams, Reese’s Puffs, and even Trix — a product with 36 milligrams of Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Red 40 dyes (scientists discovered fruit juice and turmeric and annatto extracts worked just fine). At the time, General Mills also touted Lucky Charms, saying it would join the all-natural club sometime in 2017. But the team responsible for reformulating them has been at this Sisyphean task for two years now, and the Washington Post notes those chewy Styrofoam pieces masquerading as marshmallows have foiled all the food scientists’ attempts to make them less artificial.
This fix was at least half a dozen people’s full-time job, Quartz reported back in April of 2016:
On any given day at General Mills, six or seven people clock into work to actively pursue a recipe that works … They have an ever-changing pantry to work with, too, as each color requires screening new vegetables, fruits, and spices for a potential color match. Playing with concentrations of different juices, mixing them with marshmallow cream, and testing how they react to milk are all part of the job.
For each marshmallow conquered, the food scientists must then step back and consider the state of the entire bowl, paying keen attention to any small difference in taste. The subtlety of Lucky Charms — versus the loud, fruity flavors one would find in a bowl of Trix — makes the task of achieving vibrant colors with muted flavor all the more challenging.
But as spokesperson Mike Siemienas now tells the Post, that effort has “since stalled,” mostly because no one working in the lab can make a natural marshmallow that tastes any good. (For the record, a standard marshmallow is three or four ingredients: sugar, water, gelatin, and maybe egg whites.)
The paper points out that this also makes General Mills’ new promotion somewhat ironic: Some 10,000 boxes of marshmallow-only Lucky Charms that “come with more sugar per serving than a Snickers bar or Twinkie.” The company contends that customers have been calling by phone, emailing, tweeting, “you name it,” to demand these all-marshmallow boxes. In theory, a natural version is still in the works, but the company isn’t even estimating what year that will happen anymore. “It’s still our biggest challenge,” Siemienas tells the Post, leaving it at: “We’ll let you know once we’ve found a solution.”