Dunkin’ Donuts Drops Titanium Dioxide

March 2015

With the recent declaration by Dunkin’ Brands that they are removing Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) from their powdered donuts, we have received a lot of inquiries about the future of TiO2 as a food color. That is a good question, but what’s even more interesting is the role that ‘corporate responsibility’ watchdog groups may have in influencing consumer perception and belief in the future.

In the case of Dunkin’, apparently the decision was a preemptive move to alleviate investor concern in the wake of a shareholder proposal put forth by the group ‘As You Sow’ asking Dunkin’ to assess and reduce the risk of nanoparticles in their products. ‘As You Sow’ has subsequently withdrawn the proposal, although the two sides still disagree as to whether the TiO2 used in Dunkin’s powdered sugar is a nanoparticle.

Food grade titanium dioxide is an ideal colorant for many applications, notably in baking, confection, and other dry grocery products. The FDA allows foods to contain up to 1% TiO2 without the need to include it on the label. Health authorities who have reviewed available data have concluded that titanium dioxide poses no safety concern. The claim that TiO2 is a potential source of nanoparticles is not supported with much evidence, but to date there is little research on the topic.

Against the backdrop of U.S. consumer desire for more simple ingredients and more specifically a concern over artificial color, many food manufacturers are choosing to formulate new products without using TiO2. Some are even taking things a step further and reformulating existing offerings.

This is interesting because in the past, many branded food companies took a more conservative wait and see approach when these issues came to the forefront. In today’s environment, where Vani Hari (a.k.a. the Food Babe) can be considered by Time magazine as one of the most influential people on the internet, caution is not as well rewarded as it was in the past.

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At Sensient, several years ago we anticipated that titanium dioxide would eventually be viewed as inconsistent with simple ingredient labeling. Our Avalanche TiO2 replacer is a natural alternative to either titanium dioxide or calcium carbonate and can be used in all pH systems. It is ideal for confection, topical, or any low water activity application. You can find out more about Avalanche™ here.

The answer to the question about the future of TiO2 as a colorant is that for new product launches, we expect to see more titanium-free formulations. As for corporate responsibility groups and individuals, their influence will only grow in this era of instant and constant communication.

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