Represented by its mascot Toucan Sam, Froot Loops is a popular brand of fruit-flavored breakfast cereal produced by Kellogg’s – the same company that produces other iconic food products such as Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Pringles, Eggo, and Cheez-Its. Characterized by multicolored ring-shaped cereal pieces, Froot Loops were first introduced back in 1963. With an estimated $269.1 million in sales for the year 2017 (1), Froot Loops are constantly rated as one the most beloved cereal brands in the US.
Since Froot Loops contain vitamin D3, it is difficult to suggest that the cereal brand is truly vegan. It has been well documented that the vitamin is predominantly made using an animal product. Additionally, there are ingredients that are usually classified as gray areas in the vegan community because they are trickier to ascertain whether they are truly vegan or not. These gray area ingredients include sugar, natural flavors, and artificial coloring agents.
By definition, Froot Loops are vegan since they do not contain any animal products at first glance. The cereal brand is primarily made from grains, sweeteners, and food coloring agents to give the cereal pieces the different colors there are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.
However, the presence of vitamin D3 in Froot Loops is an issue for vegans. The majority of vitamin D that is commercially produced uses an animal product for its production. Although there are vegan methods to produce vitamin D3, the likelihood of the vitamin being vegan is very low. Thus, Froot Loops are probably not vegan.
Additionally, Froot Loops contains a few ingredients that are considered gray areas. These ingredients are substances that are difficult to determine if whether they are truly vegan or not. The gray area ingredients in question include natural flavors, sugar, and artificial coloring agents.
The list of ingredients of Froot Loops includes (2): corn flour blend (whole grain yellow corn flour, degerminated yellow corn flour), sugar, wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, modified food starch, contains 2% or less of vegetable oil (hydrogenated coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), oat fiber, maltodextrin, salt, soluble corn fiber, natural flavor, red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, yellow 6, BHT for freshness.
Vitamins and minerals: vitamin C (ascorbic acid), reduced iron, niacinamide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamine hydrochloride), folic acid, vitamin D3, vitamin B12.
Vitamins are micronutrients that the body requires to properly function. However, the body only requires vitamins in very small amounts. In contrast, the body requires large amounts of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, lipids, and fats to produce energy and maintain the body. There are different types of vitamins that serve different functions, but vegans are very mindful of one vitamin in particular: vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a unique vitamin in the sense that it can be produced in the body compared to other vitamins that have to be consumed through the diet. With the energy from the sun, UV radiation can cause a chemical reaction in the skin to produce vitamin D for the body. Despite this process, vitamin D can still be acquired through the diet like other vitamins. In fact, vitamin D is a common vitamin that food companies fortify their food with.
Vegans are very cautious about any form of vitamin D because the vitamin has a long history of being industrially produced using animal products. It has been recorded to be extracted from brains and spinal cords in the past. In more recent years, vitamin D has also been extracted from cod livers. However, modern production involves the extraction of a cholesterol from sheep’s wool which is then converted into an active form of vitamin D (3).
To date, there have been advancements in the production of vitamin D that does not require the use of animal products. There are reports of companies producing vitamin D through biotechnological means with the use of lichen.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to neglect that majority of commercial vitamin D is indeed produced using animal products. Thus, products that are fortified with vitamin D are unlikely to be vegan. Specifically, Froot Loops are fortified with vitamin D3, a form of the vitamin that still undergoes the same production process.
Natural flavors are an assortment of natural substances that primarily aim to impart flavoring, essentially act as flavoring agents. This is also a way for companies to keep their main flavoring agents proprietary to avoid recreation. The problem with natural flavors and vegans arises with how the FDA defines the ingredient. Specifically, the FDA defines natural flavors as (4):
“The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”FDA.gov
From the definition above, it can be seen that natural flavors are composed of natural substances. This is to distinguish it from artificial flavors. However, the umbrella definition is problematic for vegans because the definition states that natural flavors can encompass both plant- and animal-derived products. Unless stated in the product package that the product is vegan-friendly, there is no way to determine whether a food product that contains natural flavors is indeed vegan.
Understandably, a breakfast cereal such as Froot Loops contains a large amount of sugar. A common sweetener used in the food industry, sugar is typically derived from plant sources such as sugarcane and sugar beets. Although it is derived from plant sources, sugar can possibly become non-vegan depending on how it is manufactured.
Sugar can easily be extracted from plant sources and can be utilized as a sweetener right away. However, many sugar companies subject the sugar to further refinement to make the sugar more appealing to consumers. These additional refinement processes make the sugar finer and whiter. One such process used for further refinement is filtration.
Different sugar companies have different filtration methods. Some use granulated carbon which is a perfectly vegan way to do it. However, some companies use bone char – the charred skeletal remains of different animals. As an animal product, sugar that was produced using bone char can no longer be considered vegan (5).
The problem with sugar is that it is difficult to determine if whether sugar companies used bone char in their sugar production. It is especially difficult because large food companies can sometimes have multiple sources of ingredients such as sugar. Thus, it is very difficult to track if whether the sugar used in Froot Loops is vegan or not.
Fortunately, this issue is more common in the US than it is in other parts of the world since the practice of using bone char is more common there. Thus, sugar produced in other countries is less likely to be produced using bone char.
Color is an important part of the food industry, and it is especially important for Froot Loops as one of its main appeals is that the cereal comes in a wide variety of colors. Other food products appear as they do due to their natural ingredients. However, some companies actively manipulate the color of their food products through the use of food coloring agents. There are many natural food coloring agents out there that are considered vegan. However, the issue for vegans is the use of artificial coloring agents.
Artificial coloring agents are completely devoid of animal products or derivatives as they are created synthetically. However, the issue with artificial coloring agents is the ethics – these substances have been known to undergo numerous safety tests using animal models.
Understandably, safety is very important. However, the use of animal models is an unethical practice due to the inhumane treatment of the animals involved. They are subjected to harsh conditions and are often killed in the process. The use of animal models is especially unethical when there are other alternatives such as the use of cell models and in silico studies (i.e., the use of computer models and algorithms).
Specifically, Froot Loops use a wide variety of these artificial coloring agents to give their products an assortment of colors. The dyes used include red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, and yellow 6. These are popular artificial dyes that have been documented to be used on a wide array of animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, dogs, pigs, guinea pigs, hamsters, and cats (6, 7, 8, 9).