At First Sight
Beverage colors provide the all-important first impression
A virtual rainbow of colors populates beverage aisles. From classic cola shades to brightly colored kid concoctions, beverage colors tempt consumers to drink up. The hue chosen by a company is an important factor as it not only hints at the flavor, but also engages senses and emotions before a sip is even taken.
“Colors help beverages by making them more visually appealing and they help identify the appearance of the beverage with the flavor,” says Jason Armao, director of colors and special ingredients for Wild Flavors, Cincinnati. “In addition, colors can be used to stimulate a customer to purchase. For example, a beverage marketed toward children or teens may be brightly colored, while a beverage marketed toward adult women may be soft and natural in appearance.”
With a multitude of beverages competing for appeal, the beverage’s color helps to make an impact on consumers. Though many consumers are looking for more from their beverages, such as an energy boost or antioxidant benefits, colors help to distinguish one product or flavor from another.
“Colors take an important part in the emotional benefits brought by a product,” says Nathalie Pauleau, color engineer with the European branch of David Michael & Co. in France. “In fact, the consumer interest for a beverage depends on the functional benefit for one part and on the emotional benefits for one other part. The more the emotional benefit corresponds to the consumer’s feelings and needs, the more the consumer is attracted and interested by the product.”
It’s only natural
As consumer interest in natural foods continues to increase, the demand for natural colors has as well. Natural colors have been around for many years, but recent technology has made them more stable and easily available. Fruits and vegetables are the main source for natural colors, which are most often in pinks, magentas and red shades.
“There are a lot of studies that consider the use of synthetic colors not very good for health because of allergic reactions,” Pauleau says. “In this way, some producers of beverages try to use natural colors instead of synthetic ones, in particular beverages for young people and dietetic beverages.”
Pauleau’s company, David Michael has a large range of natural colors that protect pigments from oxidative degradation and have better stability. The company also developed a range of natural reds that remain stable in ascorbic acid, a common ingredient in soft drinks, including Strawberry Red, Red Fruit and Cherry shades. In addition, the company manufactures a range of fun colors for use in alcohol and other novelty drinks to add interest to the product, including its newest Cotton Candy shade.
Consumer label reading also is feeding the need for more natural colors, explains Marty Gil, technical application specialist for GNT USA, Tarrytown, N.Y. “The consumer is driving the need for cleaner labels as the public and the consumer is becoming more educated about the ingredients that are used in the finished product.  Natural and organic retail outlets, such as Whole Foods, are one of the factors driving this change in consumer education and purchasing choices.”
Gil explains that with any ingredient factors such as light, heat and exposure to oxygen can play a role in colorant stability over time. GNT USA’s fruit and vegetable-derived Exberry line of colors provide coloring solutions with a shelf life that can outlast that of its application, he says.  
“Most of our business is natural; that’s our expertise,” explains Jeff Greaves, president of Food Ingredient Solutions, Blauvelt, N.Y. “We do application work through standard breeding to create new colors. The heyday of natural colors was a few years ago with Snapple and Mistic, but now with Vitaminwater, companies are interested more in whole food color. Our juice concentrates help go a little bit in the direction of whole food color.”
Food Ingredient Solutions has many natural colors, including the popular and functional beta-carotene. The company also has filed a petition with the FDA for the first natural green color, derived from chlorophyll, Greaves reports. Also new is its red radish juice color that is similar in shade to synthetic Red 40. Interestingly, the source of the color has proved to be a tough sell with some marketers.
“Our vegetable-based colors, such as radish and cabbage, are stable and work beautifully, but some marketing departments don’t want to put [vegetable colors] on the label,” Greaves says. “That’s where our elderberry colors come in because they are comparable to synthetic, allow for a fruit claim and provide the kind of stability that you could get [with synthetic].”
The American-grown elderberry color provides purple tones that were previously derived from red cabbage or carmine, which can be an allergen. Another advantage is the fruit’s functional benefits; elderberry has long been revered for aiding vision and having antioxidants.
Natural colors are playing a large part in Wild Flavor’s new exotic flavor beverage concepts. Its concepts are following trends in global fruit and flavor profiles that are inspired by world cuisine. The company is using natural colors indicative of the original beverage recipes for ready-to-drink, easy-to-manufacture concepts, Armao explains.
Cola colors are the main focus for D.D. Williamson, though the Louisville, Ky., company is gaining natural appeal through its affiliated companies. In addition to the acquisition of Wisconsin’s Dinesen Trading Co. earlier this year, D.D. Williamson is affiliated with ColorMaker. The Anaheim, Calif.-based company specializes in technology driven natural color blends.
“We’ve developed natural color emulsions that disperse and remain dispersed in oil,” says Stephan Laurel, general manager of ColorMaker. “This allows someone to create an essential oil that contains both fragrance and color. The advantage is shelf stability because you basically have colorant enrobed in oil and it’s less susceptible to light. You could have an essential lavender or eucalyptus beverage that releases a fragrant note when opened.”
Additional appeal
Aside from a preference for natural, there are other trends that are affecting beverage colors. The widespread appeal of organic in other edibles has caused a growing demand for organic colors. Convenience and customizability also is having an effect on colors as dry-mix beverages regain popularity and add new flavors.  
The organic movement has expanded in foods, but it’s just beginning to affect beverages. Unexpected beverage categories such as fortified waters and energy drinks hope to allure organically minded consumers, and beverage companies in many categories are looking for organic colors to complete their organic products.
“We’re just seeing the beginning of organic colors,” says Susan Brunjes, applications director for beverages for Sensient Technologies, Milwaukee. “We’re getting more and more calls as Wal-Mart is jumping on the trend.”
Sensient Technologies has organic-compliant colors for organic beverages. Wild Flavors’ Armao cautions there may be challenges when incorporating organic colors, due to the regulations on the colors themselves and as ingredients. Yet, the organic regulations are under review and could be altered when updated late next year, he says.
No longer just high-sugar kid’s drinks, dry-mix beverages are expanding in size, such as the popular single-serve shake-and-drink products, and flavors with exotic profiles. Ingredient companies are seeing demand for new dry-mix colors. Sensient’s Brunjes says there are many applications for colors in dry-mix from FD&C dyes to colors that change when mixed.
For ColorMaker, dry mix colors are experiencing broad demand from exotic flavors.
“There is an interest in alternative flavors including those that are slightly different or exotic, such as saffron or melon in powdered beverages,” Laurel says. “There is a certain sophistication in tropical flavors such as mango or pineapple. There also is a new generation of moms who grew up on Tang and are now looking for something with more sophistication or control of the sugar.”
As for the future of colors, Laurel says the possibilities are as limitless as marketers want to make them.
“We’re prepared, as an ingredient company, to create new colors, but marketing departments sometimes worry [about possible appeal],” he says. “If you want to fit with the growing trend of Hispanic beverages, soon it will move to Asian and nutraceutical. If it all looks the same, it won’t stand out. As ingredient suppliers we can deliver; it’s marketing that has to overcome.”