Blue Box Mac And Cheese And Other Guilty Pleasures
When I heard that Kraft Foods plans to take the orange color out of their mac and cheese “to meet consumers’ changing lifestyles and needs,” I thought: Here we go again. A major food manufacturer is playing the health-food game, trying to fix something that’s not broken. Or, to put it another way, something that’s so broken it’s campy.
I know, you health purists think I’m off-base. That orange cheese powder is evil stuff and big, bad Kraft should get with the times and make their products healthier. But since when did anyone consider Kraft Macaroni & Cheese health food?
Boxed mac and cheese is comfort food. Call it a tango with familiarity. It’s grub that makes you feel, well …nostalgic and comfortable. It’s not something to reduce calorie intake. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered yeast rolls, alphabet soup, canned ravioli, Spam, hot dogs, frosted flakes, Hershey’s kisses, buttered popcorn, Little Debbies and all the other junky pleasures. These foods may be “artificial” and full of preservatives but we eat them anyway.
I’m a lifelong mac and cheese fan, though I prefer it made from scratch and baked with real cheddar cheese, whole eggs and a cracker-crumb topping. That said, I will eat the blue box stuff in a pinch.
I’m as skeptical about Kraft’s proposed change as my family was when I‘d serve baked macaroni and cheese. They would groan and wish I’d taken the shortcut with the blue box, which got me to thinking—that little white packet of orange powder is more than convenience. It’s the consistency of the sauce, the salty taste and yes, the color.
Kraft’s new orange stuff (made from derivatives of paprika, annatto and turmeric) may not work out. Changing something that’s not broken—at least in the minds of consumers—is seldom a good strategy. Coca-Cola tried that back in 1985, changing the formula of their iconic soft drink. It was a disaster.
And there’s the current McDonald’s sales slump. Let me guess. Salads, fresh fruit and yogurt make odd bedfellows with what made McDonald’s a success: fast burgers, French fries and milkshakes. Those three foods may not be the healthiest, but they are comforting and what we expect.
Burgers and fries shouldn’t be a daily diet, nor should mac and cheese. But such foods are cheap meals that we’ve grown up on and they’ve helped us get through lean times when we couldn’t afford something more.
Kraft’s current blue box says, “You know you love it.” And in fact Americans do love it. It’s a taste of childhood, of less stressful, simpler times. And that might be better for us than stewing over an ounce of dried cheese powder.