The health and wellness trend continues into color additives as many consumers are searching for natural alternatives.

Photo courtesy of WILD Flavors.

Color me natural

Imagine a child about to carve his annual pumpkin for Halloween. He’s waiting anxiously until finally his parents plop down a giant blue pumpkin. Wait, there’s obviously something wrong with this scenario, and everyone, but especially the child, knows it.

During childhood, everyone learns to associate certain foods with specific colors (i.e. a pumpkin is orange). According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) brochure called “Food Color Facts,” published in Jan. 1993, “Nature teaches us early to expect certain colors in certain foods, and our future acceptance of foods is highly dependent on meeting these expectations.”

As a result, food manufacturers must use color additives that correctly reflect the food that is presented. This may become challenging when products use natural colors, but it’s definitely not impossible.

Up 11.8% from 2007, the “no additives” claim was featured on 672 confectionery products in 49 countries in 2008, reports Mintel. By using natural colors, manufacturers can develop a simple and clean label, which connotes quality and safety.

Consumers are looking for cleaner, more natural labels, says Carol Locey, director of product management for colors at Kalsec. Additionally, many consumers are concerned about food safety and health issues when purchasing a confectionery product, causing many confectioners to shift from artificial to natural colors – especially in Europe.

“This shift is linked to the 2007 Southampton study on the effect of synthetic colorants and hyperactivity in children,” Locey says.

While the Southampton study did not provide enough evidence or consistency for the European Food Safety Authority’s AFC Panel to alter the acceptable daily intake of the food colors or sodium benzoate in question, it was enough for many consumers to begin looking at natural products.

Photo courtesy of Chr. Hansen

Chr. Hansen, for instance, offers pigment extracts that come from a wide range of naturally occurring raw materials, like fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, seeds and flowers.

The company also provides technical support to its customers by providing color formulation directly inside the customer’s application base through its Global Expertise Centers.

“We also have pilot plants to simulate manufacturing processes as closely as possible to those in the customer’s factories,” says Pia Nejsum Sjoegaard, business development manager, color division, Chr. Hansen.

“The biggest potential is within beverage and confectionery where currently the global natural color penetration is only about 10%, expected to grow to 25% within four years,” Sjoegaard adds.

Although the segment is growing, natural colors can pose some difficulties for confectioners.

“Achieving a sufficiently bright and stable color can be a challenge when only using raw materials from nature,” Sjoegaard says. “Natural colors produced now are technically very advanced. Hence they are more stable in varying conditions of temperature, light and pH, which makes it much easier for producers to successfully replace synthetic colors with their natural counterparts.”

A downside to natural colors is that they are very dependent on supply. The weather, quality of harvest, cost of the raw materials and transport can be challenging factors, Sjoegaard says. Chr. Hansen avoids these risks by partnering with several global farmers and sourcing raw materials in different locations.

Natural colors also come with many benefits. In addition to cleaner labels, some natural colors can offer health benefits. For example, phytonutrients can help prevent disease or improve health. 

Photo courtesy of GNT USA.

Whether the consumer is looking for a healthy product or a standard sweet treat, if it’s not visually appealing, consumers are less inclined to pick it up, says Jason Armao, director, colors and special ingredients, WILD Flavors, Inc.

WILD’s line of natural colors, calledColors From Nature, offer heat and light stable colors in appealing hues, including annatto, anthocyanins, beetroot, beta-carotene, cochineal, curcumin and paprika.

Additionally, WILD offers organic-compliant colors and a few organic certified colors.

“As the organic food sector is growing, it is no surprise that natural organic colors are increasing in popularity,” says Aminah Lewis, business development manager, Colorcon.

Besides producing a limited list of organic colorants, Colorcon offers carmine, cochineal colorants, fruit and vegetable juice colors, beta-carotene and other natural colors for use in hard and soft panning, compound coatings and gummy applications.

As for new natural colors entering the marketplace, manufacturers are hoping to add to the list.

“Some natural colors are available, but not allowed in foods in the United States,” explains Lewis. “These include gardenia colors, carbon black (used in European licorice confections), spirulina (used in blue candies in the U.K.), iron oxides (allowed in pet foods) and copper chlorophyllin (used only in dentifrices and powdered citrus beverages).

“Color manufacturers are currently petitioning the FDA to add more colors to the list of allowed exempt colorants.”

In addition to increasing consumer demand for natural confectionery products, natural colors are a necessity for products hoping to be sold in stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, says ceo Stefan Hake, GNT USA.

GNT USA offers naturalExberry coloring foodstuffs, made from fruits, vegetables and edible plants, and naturalNutrifood fruit and vegetable concentrates with high levels of phytonutrients. 

Photo courtesy of International Foodcraft

Working with the health conscious consumer, Sensient Food Colors, part of Sensient Technologies Corp., recently introducedFusion Precise Natural Colorsfeaturing custom blends of natural coloring raw materials. This line of colors offers a precise natural shade solution to application needs and many of the colors are GMO-free, allergen-free and preservative-free, according to the Color Group of Sensient Technologies Corp. Additionally, Sensient is an organic-certified facility offering three organic-certified colors including purple sweet potato, red cabbage and caramel color.

Although blues and greens are the hardest natural colors to come by, International Foodcraft Corp. makes it possible. Specifically, the company produces natural blacks, blues, greens and purples under itsColoreze line, available for water- and fat-based products. The company also offers a number of certified-organic colorants in powder, liquid and paste formats. And even though there are many natural colors to choose from, there’s always room to grow.

“While there is a wide variety of natural colorants available in the United States, candy and food suppliers are hampered by the fact that there are many excellent ingredients which are approved by the FDA for food and candy, but which are not approved as ‘colorants,’” says David J. Dukes, president of International Foodcraft Corp. “Thus, for example, a company can use spinach as an ingredient in their product, but not as a color.

“If more commonly accepted food ingredients were approved as colorants, the variety of shades available and their stability in finished products would be dramatically increased.”

Note: For more information on the Southampton study and the FDA’s definition of natural colors, visitwww.candyindustry.comand clickCandy Industry Plus.