In what’s been called the “clean label” trend, consumers increasingly are seeking out products with a short list of minimally processed ingredients and typically free of artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors and preservatives. As beverage makers try to keep up with this consumer demand, this trend has, in turn, generated strong growth for natural colors typically sourced from fruit and vegetable extracts, as opposed to synthetic colors. According to a 2012 report from Mintel and Letterhead Food Research, the value of natural colors surpassed that of artificial colors in the global food color market. In 2011, global sales of natural colors reached an estimated $600 million, up almost 29 percent from 2007. The global use of natural colors in new product launches outweighs the use of artificial/synthetic colors by 2:1, according to the Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research report.
Historically, a major challenge with natural colors has been stability; natural colors tend to be more sensitive to light, heat and processing conditions than the more hardy synthetic (FD&C) colors. And some natural colors aren’t as bright over time as synthetic colors due to limited shelf life, which results in color fading. Color makers have been using their technical know-how to address those issues.
Mike Geraghty, president, Color Group, Sensient Technologies Corp., says beverage companies often face challenges with color consistency, bottle ringing and package staining when using natural colors. To address these challenges, Sensient offers its new Advanced Emulsion Technology (AET) combining multiple oil- and water-based natural colors in a single delivery system, enabling new natural shades previously unattainable with traditional technology, according to Geraghty.
“With this technology we can provide carmine replacement red shades, prevent color bleed and equipment staining and improve color consistency—perfect for companies that want naturally sourced stable red colors for ready-to-drink beverages,” Geraghty says. Carmine is a popular source for natural red shades. However, its source—it’s extracted from the female cochineal insect—might not suit consumers with vegetarian or vegan diets, so some beverage companies have sought alternatives.
Chr. Hansen also invests in improved raw material handling, processing and new technology to continually deliver better-performing natural colors for the food and beverage market.
“We have done a lot of work with encapsulation to protect natural colors from harsh light and heat conditions so the color performs better in a beverage application,” says Dermot Horan, business development director, North America, Chr. Hansen, a major color supplier. For example, Chr. Hansen’s CapColors uses encapsulation technology to ensure natural colors with improved stability to light, pH and oxidation and increased color intensity and brightness.
Thanks to advances in color technology, natural, stable blue shades are now available to beverage makers. Wild Flavors offers its Colors from Nature line to replace synthetic and FD&C colors, which includes an acid-stable blue color additive sourced from fruit.
Sensient Colors also recently announced the availability of natural green and blue colors in its natural color range. The new colors are highly pH, light and heat stable and the natural blue platform can replicate the bold shades of certified colors.
Sethness Product Co.’s range of caramel colors also are naturally sourced colors exempt from certification that are used in a diverse variety of beverages from soft drinks to coffee-based drinks to teas, energy drinks and lemonades. Sethness caramel colors can be used to impart a wide range of hues from yellows to reds to dark browns.
The next generation in natural hues is what’s called coloring foodstuffs—food ingredients with coloring properties. When used in food and beverages, coloring foodstuffs are considered food ingredients and not color additives as they originate from fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices or other edible raw materials.
Color manufacturer ROHA, as well as Wild Flavors and Chr. Hansen all offer a wide range of coloring foodstuffs, for example, and are seeing increased interest in this segment. ROHA developed its Futurals line of 100 percent natural coloring foodstuffs with shades extracted from vegetables, fruits, edible flowers, herbs, spices and algae. Wild’s Coloring Foodstuff from Nature range contains a broad range of shades from purple, red and orange through yellow, green and blue to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers looking for clean, simple ingredient labels.
eanwhile, Chr. Hansen markets its FruitMax family of coloring foodstuffs with 100 shades suitable for beverage applications.
According to a study conducted by Chr. Hansen and The Nielsen Company, 88 percent of consumers surveyed across 10 markets indicated that they believe natural colors add value to food and beverage products. And the study, which includes the U.S. as one of the 10 markets, also found that 78 percent of consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for a naturally colored beverage or food product. “Natural colors are seen as a sign of quality,” Chr. Hansen’s Horan says. “Many brand owners have turned the conversion to natural colors into an investment and they have made a great return.”