(Adds comment from advocacy group)
By Carey Gillam
April 20 (Reuters) - Kraft Foods Group Inc on Monday said it is revamping its family-friendly macaroni and cheese meal, removing synthetic colors and preservatives from the popular boxed dinner.
The move comes at a time when Kraft is battling sluggish demand as consumers shift to brands that are perceived as healthier, including foods that are organic or less processed.
The company has also been targeted by consumer advocacy groups. The groups have pressured Kraft to remove artificial food dyes from its products, complaining that the additives are not used, and in some cases, banned in other countries.
Kraft spokeswoman Lynne Galia said the changes were being made to address concerns expressed by consumers, including demands for improved nutrition and "simpler ingredients."
"We know parents want to feel good about the foods they eat and serve their families," Galia said in an emailed statement about the changes to its macaroni and cheese product.
Galia said the changes will be effective by January 2016 for "Original Kraft Macaroni & Cheese" in the United States. The company is also removing synthetic colors by the end of 2016 in Canada for its Kraft Dinner Original.
In 2014, Kraft launched its Mac & Cheese Boxed Shapes with no synthetic colors, and in January of this year, the Northfield, Illinois-based company moved to no artificial preservatives for the Boxed Shapes product in the United States, the company said.
Kraft also said it is replacing synthetic colors with those derived from natural sources, like paprika, annatto and turmeric.
Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization for health and environmental issues, applauded Kraft's move and said it should be an example for other companies.
"The announcement from Kraft should be a wake-up call for other food manufacturers to take notice, go back to the drawing board, reformulate and get rid of these synthetic ingredients of concern, especially in food that is marketed to children," White said.
Kraft Foods is one of North America's largest consumer packaged food and beverage companies, with annual revenues of more than $18 billion. Its brands include Capri Sun, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Lunchables, Maxwell House and Oscar Mayer.
Kraft shares were up about 1 percent at $87.58 on Monday. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Missouri; Additional reporting by Anjali Athavaley in New York; Editing by G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)