The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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June 18, 2013

New goal: Make processed foods look more natural

(Continued)

“Food manufacturers are adapting by the way they mold the product or the end color or texture they want the product to be,” he said.

Appearances have always been a part of food production. But some experts say the visual cues food makers are using to suggest their products are wholesome fuel confusion about what’s natural and what isn’t.

“They can’t change the fact that they’re making processed products so they have to use these other tricks to pretend,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and author of “Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back.”

A little dressing up can work. Bernell Dorrough, a 31-year-old web marketing coordinator in the Mobile, Ala., area, recently opted for the store brand lunchmeat at the local Publix supermarket in part because the slices came loosely packed in folds rather than in the traditional tight stacks where the meat is peeled off.

“It was folded as though someone held a bag under a machine,” he said. “I know it wasn’t hand sliced but something about the aesthetic quality appealed to me.”

Food companies are banking on customers like Dorrough.

It’s one reason why Wendy’s softened the edges of its famously square hamburger patties. The Dublin, Ohio-based says it changed the patty to a “natural square” with wavy edges because tasters said the straight edges looked processed.

At Kraft Foods Group Inc., executives took the quest for a turkey slice that looks home-cooked even further. A team at its Madison, Wis., research facility studied the way people carve meat in their kitchen, using the variety of knives they typically have at their disposal.

Instead of the traditional slicers found in delis, the goal was to build a machine that would hack at the meat as a person might, creating slabs with more ragged edges, said Morin, the Kraft engineer.

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