Beverage-makers carefully consider color in
determining product formulation
Color is often what
attracts consumers to a beverage, prompting them to take it off the shelf
and give it a try. A beverage’s color is one of the first things
consumers notice, and as such, it has a huge impact on a product’s
marketing and sales.
As technology has evolved, the range of beverage color
choices available to beverage-makers has expanded. This, in turn, gives
beverage companies more formulation options as they attempt to keep up with
changing consumer preferences.
Beverage-makers must consider a number of critical
factors in determining which color is best for a particular product.
Establishing the desired shade is usually the first step, a decision that
drives a product’s marketing plan and technical requirements. Taste
perception is also a primary consideration, as the color indicates to the
consumer how a beverage might taste.
How a beverage is packaged and processed is important,
as processes like hot fill, retort and carbonation, and the amount of light
and oxygen let in by packaging can affect color or shelf life. The desired
pH of the finished beverage is also critical, as it affects how colors
interact with other ingredients.
“Things like pH must be considered because colors
that work well at low pHs often don’t work or are unstable at higher
pHs,” says Jason Armao, director of colors and special ingredients
for Wild Flavors Inc., a Cincinnati-based provider of flavors, colors and
ingredients to the food and beverage industries. “The composition of
the beverage is important because ingredients like ascorbic acid can affect
the stability of the color. Flavor sometimes can react with the color, as
can salts, so when formulating a beverage, all ingredients should be
A beverage’s fortification with vitamins or
minerals can affect color, as can other ingredients. “For example,
ascorbic acid fortification is good for products that have colors like beta
carotene because the ascorbic acid stabilizes the beta carotene,”
says Jeff Greaves, president of Food Ingredient Solutions LLC, a Blauvelt,
N.Y.-based formulator and distributor of natural colors. “A little
bit of ascorbic acid is good for anthocyanin colors, but a lot of ascorbic
acid destabilizes anthocyanin colors, causing them to fade faster. For the
less stable ones, it can also cause them to brown. Even though it
won’t create spoilage, it will decrease the shelf life, as it’s
harder to sell discolored beverages.”
Natural vs. synthetic
In choosing a color, one of the biggest considerations
for beverage-makers is whether to use natural or synthetic colors, or even
a blend of the two types.
“With any color, regardless of whether it is
natural or synthetic, properties specific to that color additive need to be considered,” says Susan Brunjes, color
chemist for Sensient Colors Inc., a Milwaukee-based
manufacturer of colors, flavors and fragrances. “Not all colors have
the same stability properties. Each color needs to be evaluated
individually based on the application and factors such as heat, light, pH,
packaging, processing, regulatory status and other ingredients in the
application that could affect color stability.”
The most popular synthetic colors used in beverages
are FD&C colors Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Blue #1, which can be
combined with each other or with natural colors to produce a broad palette.
While typically less expensive than natural colors, synthetic colors can be
more difficult to produce, and each batch must be certified by the Food and
Drug Administration. Synthetic colors may be used in amounts consistent
with good manufacturing practices, but cannot be used in foods and
beverages for which an established standard of identity exits (unless added
color is specifically authorized by the standard).
“There are advantages to both,” Armao
says. “In general, the stability of a synthetic color is better, and
they can be easier to use. The cost of using a synthetic color is usually
lower. The cost of using natural colors has decreased in recent years, and
as a result, more people are using them. This, coupled with the fact that
synthetic colors have received negative publicity, can make natural colors
look more attractive to developers.”
Synthetic colors are so highly regulated in part due
to safety issues. “So many synthetics have been delisted for safety
reasons that there is a very limited palette of shades available with
synthetics,” Greaves says. “Natural colors round out that
palette so you can get different colors. Sometimes, the naturals are
actually more stable than the synthetics. One example is red cabbage color,
which is the same shade as Red #3, but is much more light-stable.”
Natural colors are typically manufactured from fruits
and vegetables. The FDA does not recognize the term “natural
color” though the term is common industry parlance. Instead, they are
termed “exempt from certification” by FDA, and while derived
from natural sources, these colors must be identified on the label as
“Natural color usage is increasing mainly due to
fast growth in the areas of natural and organic products and functional
foods,” Armao says. “A customer may decide they have to use a
natural color because of the market they’re going into or because
they want their product to be perceived as healthier. Some stores like
Whole Foods often won’t carry products with synthetic
Common sources of natural colors include annatto,
carmine and cochineal extract, elderberry, black carrot, turmeric, titanium
dioxide and beta carotene. Anthocyanins from sources such as grapes or red
cabbage are often used as well, in part for their antioxidant properties.
Caramel also remains a popular color for beverages like carbonated soft
drinks and beer because it withstands pH well. Use of these and other
natural colors is on the rise as prices have come down in recent years due
to improved extraction and concentration techniques.
In addition to pH requirements, whether a beverage is
still or carbonated also factors into color selection.
“Most color additives are suitable for both
carbonated and still beverages, given that the beverage’s other
properties are suitable for the specific color being used,” Brunjes
says. “In some carbonated beverages where multiple coloring
components are used, certain colors may stay with the foam and color it,
while others will not. This can be seen in some grape-type sodas, where the
foam appears slightly bluer when the beverage is first poured. The blue
component migrates into the foam to a greater extent than the red
component. This may or may not be a desired effect.”
For a still beverage with low pH, such as enhanced
water or a juice-containing beverage, anthocyanins such as fruit and
vegetable juice concentrates are often used. Cochineal and carmine are also
common, though carmine can precipitate slightly as a lower pH.
Antho-cyanins can be used in carbonated beverages as well. While that usage
isn’t as common, it is now seen in products such as 7-Up Plus and
Radish, beet, carmine and cochineal are often used in
neutral pH products. “They’re really useful in the neutral
products because the anthocyanins, as you raise the pH, go from red to
purple to blue to green,” Greaves says.
A beverage’s consistency can affect the color
choice, as well. “There are some orange products we offer that are
derived from carrot and pumpkin because they’re not 100 percent water
soluble,” says Stefan Hake, president of GNT USA, a natural color
manufacturer based in Tarrytown, N.Y. “In the juice area, where the
density is a little thicker, they work extremely well. They wouldn’t
work well in vitamin water because it would change the density, so it would
taste a little thicker and might eventually precipitate.”
When to add color
Depending on the beverage, color may be added at
different points in the manufacturing process,
but as a rule, most beverage-makers try to add it at the end of the
“If possible, it is generally best to add color
near the end of the order of addition of ingredients,” Brunjes says.
“As a precaution, color should be added in a manner so that it
doesn’t come in contact with other ingredients in their concentrated
form, such as acids or flavors. This is because some colors could be
negatively affected by direct contact with concentrated acid or flavoring
ingredients. If acid and flavor can be mixed into the batch prior to the
addition of the color, this risk is minimized.”
Factors such as heat processing can affect when a color
is added to a beverage, as it can cause partial or complete fading. If the
color is added toward the end, that’s less likely to occur. The type
of bottling facility also may play a role, as such facilities tend to
prefer that colors and other ingredients be shipped to them in concentrate
“It definitely varies by company,” Hake
says. “We usually recommend that you add the color separately and you
add it at the last stage of your batch-making before it goes into
production. That way, you get the most out of it because as soon as you mix
the color with the flavor and so on, you don’t have control over it
Today, marketing drives the beverage color process to
a large extent, particularly as manufacturers
use color to promote a beverage to various target audiences.
While the berry flavors and colors — raspberry,
strawberry, cherry — are a popular staple, Armao notes, “I
think a lot has to do with the age group that the beverage is marketed to.
For kids, tweens and people who are into energy drinks, it tends to be
brilliant-looking colors. With the adult population, the baby boomers, you
see a lot more natural-looking beverage products.”
On the technical side, Greaves says ease of handling
continues to be a common request from his customers, particularly where
synthetic colors are concerned. That is often manifested by a request for a
weaker solution or a liquid form of a color rather than a powder form.
Despite the upswing in natural color usage across
beverage category segments, demand still exists for bright shades that
sometimes cannot be achieved through the use of natural or synthetic colors
“Beverage manufacturers that are not limited to
using only natural colors or only synthetic colors open up a wider range of
shade possibilities, such as bright purple shades that can be achieved when
using FD&C Blue 1 in combination with
natural red shades like cochineal extract or vegetable juice,”
Brunjes says. BI
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The February 2020 issue dives into Essentia water, their high-pH and high aspirations for ongoing innovation. Speaking of innovation, this issue also features a special report on how (and why) the zero-proof functional beverage market is growing. Also, check out what types of rifts and shifts are shaking up the wine category and discount variety stores, as well as the latest ingredient highlights (hint: exotic fruits make an appearance). To cap it off, peruse new product releases, the latest appearances in packaging, and holistic approaches to cognitive health. Thirsty for more? Subscribe to get the latest stories delivered right to your inbox.
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Check back throughout the month for additional content.