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How Big Food Is Taking on a World of Picky Eaters

May 3, 2017, 12:23 AM UTC

How can food industry giants keep up with customers chasing increasingly restrictive diets that excise GMOs, sodium, sugar, preservatives, and all sorts of other compounds that have long made it easier to make tasty treats on a wide (and affordable) scale?

Campbell Soup chief Denise Morrison and Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes tackled that thorny problem during a discussion at Fortune‘s second annual Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Tuesday. Simply put? The answer is to listen to consumers—but ultimately try to go where the science leads.

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“There is a constant push on things that aren’t necessarily science-based [when it comes to food],” Hayes said. “Consumers get inundated with information that isn’t necessarily true.”

But it’s also a fact that food eaters (so, basically, everyone) are getting wary of putting chemicals that they can’t even pronounce into their bodies. And there are a whole lot of legitimate concerns about the amount of salt, sugar, and other substances that people regularly ingest because their choices are limited by the market.

That’s why both Tyson and Campbell are taking steps to adjust to a world of personalized nutrition. “We’re all different, so why would we have the same diet?” asked Morrison.

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For example, Campbell has a “no-no” list and a “yes-yes” list when it comes to ingredients, as Morrison puts it. MSG and high fructose corn syrup? Those are no-nos. Vegetables and whole grains? Yes-yes.

Technology and evolving R&D present the most promising opportunities to meet consumers’ evolving demands (as does transparency about what’s in your food), according to Morrison and Hayes. Campbell, for instance, is taking on the difficult goal of sodium-reduction by seeking out healthier kinds of natural sea salts to put in its products. The company is also investing in technology that make personalized food recommendations to people based on their biological data.