PepsiCo Inc. is removing a controversial ingredient from its Gatorade sports drink in response to customer complaints.

A spokeswoman for the company, Molly Carter, said today the move was in the works for the past year after the company began “hearing rumblings” from consumers about the ingredient. She said it was not a response to a recent petition on Change.org by a Mississippi teenager.

The ingredient is also listed in other drinks, including some flavours of Powerade, made by rival Coca-Cola Co. The Atlanta-based company did not say whether it would remove the ingredient from Powerade as well but noted that it takes customers’ concerns into account when looking for ways to improve its drinks.

Ingredients in food and drinks have come under greater scrutiny in recent years, helped by the ability of consumers to mobilise online. The petition on Change.org noted that the ingredient, brominated vegetable oil, has been patented as a flame retardant and is banned in Japan and the European Union.

It had more than 200,000 supporters today.

For Gatorade, Carter said the ingredient is used as an “emulsifier,” meaning it distributes flavouring more evenly so that it does not collect at the surface. She said it was used only in select flavours including such as orange and citrus.

Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is still used in other drinks, including Coca-Cola’s Fanta and PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew.

Carter noted that the ingredient is not banned by the US Food and Drug Administration and that the decision was not the result of any health or safety concerns. She said it was to address concerns expressed specifically by Gatorade customers.

PepsiCo is replacing BVO in Gatorade with an ingredient called sucrose acetate isobutyrate, which will maintain the flavour and taste of the drinks.

PepsiCo’s decision to remove the ingredient from Gatorade was first reported by the trade journal Beverage Digest.

(This article was published on January 26, 2013)
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