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Food companies focus on giving products a more natural look

McDonald's new egg white breakfast sandwich.
McDonald's new egg white breakfast sandwich.

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Listing calorie counts and ingredients is parts of a larger move to help Americans become more conscious about what they're eating, but major food companies are trying to capitalize on another food trend: The homemade look. 

McDonald's is jumping into the game with their new Egg White Delight McMuffin, which boasts an egg cooked right on a grill. Unlike their yolkier, perfectly round brethren in the original McMuffin, these lower-calorie versions have a looser shape, designed to make the breakfast treat look less processed. 

Candice Choi of the Associated Press says the food industry's push to make products appear premium or natural is spurred by the current trend toward healthier eating among Americans. However, since the FDA doesn't have clear guidelines as to what constitutes "natural" people often don't know how to differentiate between something natural and something disguised as such. 

"I think people don't really know what a natural food is, especially when you're walking around in a supermarket and everything's packaged….A lot of people just go a lot on sight," said Choi. "Companies understand that, so they're giving those visual cues saying this is a natural product."

Another example of this trend is that Domino's Pizza workers are instructed not to worry about making their new "Artisan Pizzas" perfect for a more rustic look. Kraft Foods took more than two years to develop its Carving Board lunch meat line look like leftovers from a homemade meal. The company developed a slicer that produces uneven, thicker pieces of turkey for the illusion that the meat was hand carved. 

"Most people equate lunchmeat with a perfectly round cookie cutter slices, but Kraft's Carving Board turkey comes in these thick slabs and they're all different," said Choi. "There's no uniform shape, the edges are ragged and it really does look like something that somebody carved."

Does this focus on the physical appearance of food really entice consumers to buy? Choi says yes. 

"I cover the industry and when I go to the supermarket I definitely go by those cues," said Choi. "I think it is more natural to reach for something that appears more wholesome."