The 1971 ballad “Colour my World” by Chicago was a go-to song for proms and weddings as the lyrics proclaimed, “now, now that you’re here, promise your love that I’ve waited to share.” Ingredient suppliers also are singing the praises and sharing consumers’ “love” for clean-label natural colors.

As consumers consistently look for ways to eat and drink healthier, they want what they put in their mouths to contain recognizable ingredients. “Beverage-makers are requesting natural, clean label and non-GMO color products, says Daniel Wright, product development technologist at Fresno, Calif.-based California Natural Color, formerly known as San Joaquin Valley Concentrates.

“Within specific markets, such as organic or health and wellness, there has been a shift to natural colors,” Wright adds.

A grassroots demand for natural colors and other healthy ingredients has been upped by label-conscious consumers, says Jeff Greaves, president of Food Ingredient Solutions LLC, Teterboro, N.J.

“To replace artificial colors typically requires 10-40 times as [much] natural colors,” Greaves says. “Many more stable options are available for beverage colors. More stable fruit and vegetable juice colors, improved emulsions and dispersions all provide a wider range of shelf-stable colors for beverages.”

Ashlee Martin, senior applications scientist at Milwaukee-based Chr Hansen, notes the steady increase in requests for clean-label colors. “Artificial colors are becoming less popular but there are still some core brands who are starting to work toward the conversion from synthetic to natural.

“Colors and flavors go hand-in-hand because you eat with your eyes,” she continues. “Flavor trends are becoming more natural, therefore pairing well with the use of natural colors. With the trend of ‘better-for-you ingredients,’ clean-label colors are a good fit because they are made from fruit and vegetable juices. Also many are focusing on the ‘true-to-fruit’ trend and clean-label colors can help meet the color needs of these beverages while having ingredients they know and trust.”

The spectrum of natural color solutions for food and beverage applications ranges from coloring concentrates, natural colorings and cloud emulsions, says Christian Benetka Uher, head of business unit colours at Darmstadt, Germany-based Döhler.

The color of the product allows consumers to perceive food and beverages with all senses, adding to consumers’ “multi-sensory experiences,” Benetka Uher says. “The color has a central meaning,” he explains. “It gives the product an attractive appearance and an outlook on how it tastes, feels or how healthy it is.”

Ingredient traceability and transparency is a top consumer trend impacting the use of natural colors. A recent survey found that 68 percent of consumers say they research the ingredients that are in their beverages, according to research from Chicago-based Technomic.

“Nearly 80 percent of all new products launched globally with color are formulated with color from natural resources,” says Zach Henderson, technical service manager at St. Louis-based Sensient Colors LLC. “While there is and always will be a portion of beverage manufacturers that use synthetic colors, today’s preferences have spurred conversion to natural options.

“While a low pH of bright blue and green are still missing from the natural color spectrum, just about every other color under the rainbow is available for beverage systems,” he continues. “There are additionally great strides in certified organic colors.”


A rainbow of choices

The use of color is heavily associated with flavor and the all-important first impression of a product is highly determined by its appearance, experts say.

“Flavor trends have a significant impact on the use of colors. For example, when a consumer purchases a yellow beverage product, they will expect and perceive a citrus flavor. So, if citrus flavors became a large trend, you would see an increase in the usage of natural yellow colors like curcumin or safflower,” California Natural Color’s Wright says.

Döhler’s Benetka Uher details the direct relationship between a product’s flavor and color. “Therefore, it is necessary to adjust the right color to the flavor you want to promote,” he says. “The color will influence the perception of a flavor such that a wrong color selection can mislead the consumers on what they taste.”

The changing seasons also impact the colors and flavors of beverages on store shelves, on-premise and at foodservice, experts note.

Although natural colors are perennially popular, experts note the regulatory challenges of using certain types of colors.

Finding a good replacement for FD&C Red 40, a red azo dye, has been a challenge for beverage-makers for the past several years, California Natural Color’s Wright says. The company recently launched Real Red BG as a shade alternative to give beverage-makers a good option for replacing Red 40 in their formulations, he adds.

Brian Sethness, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Sethness Products Co., Lincolnwood, Ill., notes the strong desire to remove all FD&C dyes and points out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a legal definition for “natural” color.

“According to the FDA, if any color additive is not inherent in the final product, regardless of source, the product must be labeled as ‘artificially colored,’” Sethness says. “With this regulatory nuance in mind, ITCA does not have market information that differentiates the caramel color market between ‘natural’ and artificial.”

Although Sethness Co. does not produce natural colors, the company has multiple new caramel colors that meet new FCC requirements scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1. “We now produce 11 Non-GMO Project Verified Caramel Colors … that are more expensive than our typical caramel colors, but consumers (especially on the West Coast) like to see ‘the butterfly’ on product labels,” Sethness says.

Due to a spike in demand for non-GMO products, the company also offers new liquid and powder Class IV Non-GMO Project Verified offerings, he adds.


All is bright

Given the demand for natural colors, ingredient suppliers are utilizing their research and development departments to create effective solutions.

Louisville, Ky.-based DDW, The Color House is seeing a big push for more transparency in the supply chain, which decreases the perceived risk of converting to natural colors.

“You’ll see many examples of natural color companies who have taken a vertically integrated position in raw materials to ensure safety and quality,” says Connie Sandusky, DDW’s global marketing director. “DDW, for example, has developed a new red color from a non-GMO purple corn hybrid that is ideal for beverages and has a completely traceable supply chain with global scalability.

“… The product ticks so many boxes that are important for ingredients today,” Sandusky continues. “The bright red anthocyanin color is extracted using warm water (making it free from solvents and E numbers) and then concentrated to a standard color intensity. This simple process means simple labels: ‘coloring food’ in the EU and ‘vegetable juice for color’ in the U.S.”

In the natural color realm, a wider assortment of fruit and vegetable extracts for color as well as caramel color alternatives made from fruit concentrates are available.

Food Ingredient Solutions launched a number of micro-emulsion carotenes in the yellow to orange shade range, a fruit juice brown shade and a cost-effective organic black carrot color.

“In the coming year, we will introduce a new heat and light stable fruit juice color similar in shade to red 40 and will continue to expand our organic color offerings,” Food Ingredient Solutions’ Greaves says. “The future is bright.” BI