Natural food colouring as the way of the future

More than just a trend, the move to natural food colouring is here to stay. Now is the time for food and beverage manufacturers that still use artificial colouring to make the switch to natural. BASF can help them do this successfully.

According to a report by Zion Research, the global natural food colouring market accounted for $1.66b in 2015 and is expected to reach $2.25b by 2021, growing at a rate of around 5.2 per cent.

In addition, Asia-Pacific is expected to be the fastest natural food colouring market, due to an increase in consumption of processed food in this region.

As Harry Haikalis, BASF’s business and sales manager, nutrition and health Australia & New Zealand (pictured below) explained, these colouring products fall into two categories – natural colourants and nature-identical colourants.

“Natural colourants are what you source from nature, colourants that come from plants, minerals, and so forth,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News. “With nature identical colourants you’re replicating a naturally occurring molecular structure. You’re taking a natural pigment or colourant and you’re basically synthesising it.”

Making the change

Given the move toward natural colourings, food and beverage manufacturers still using artificial colourings in their products would be well advised to consider making the change to natural.

Harry Haikalis, BASF’s business and sales manager, nutrition and health Australia & New Zealand.

Haikalis explained that there are challenges associated with choosing and then using a natural additive.

“The major challenges centre around light stability, oxygen stability, shelf life and colour matching,” he said.

“It takes significant expertise to be able to recommend an appropriate natural product or a nature-identical formulation. It’s both a science and an art form. We’ve invested a lot of time and energy to try and make sure we can help our customers.”

Natural colourings are, as you would expect, naturally derived. They come from plants, animals or minerals and are sourced from various locations around the world.

Manufacturers who use them need to have a reliable supply, independent of seasonal or annual changes. And they need suppliers who can help them include those natural colours into their formulations.

“This is where BASF has a lot of expertise. We offer a wide range of colours and various grades for different applications, anything from powders to oils depending on what our customers want to formulate with,” said Haikalis.

Ease of use is another important consideration. Food manufacturers should be seeking products which are not only easy to add, but also deliver consistency of colour.

“They need to be able to access colour matching,” said Haikalis. “We can provide this through several applications labs across the globe.” Only by covering all these bases can manufacturers supply the reliable, stable, consistent colours consumers demand.

BASF

BASF produces a broad range of natural colourings, from yellows through to deep reds.

“The applications are very broad. They can be used on anything from sparkling or still beverages to confectionery, gummies and hard lollies, ice cream, cake mixes, breads, pasta and noodles, cheeses, yoghurts, spreads, margarines, butters and cheeses,” said Haikalis.

He explained that BASF was an early convert to natural colouring, having produced beta-carotene, which is from algae (Dunaliella salina), that’s naturally occurring in Australia, for over 25 years.

“This product uses natural algae, sunlight and carbon dioxide. We grow it, we mechanically harvest it so there’s minimal processing, then we concentrate it,” he said.

The company also offers Xangold, a natural colouring derived from the Marigold flower (Targetes erecta) and sourced from Ecuador; and Lycopene which is typically derived from tomatoes.

“We offer proven solutions through many decades of experience and know-how,” said Haikalis. “We welcome the conversion from artificial to natural and nature identical and recognise it for what it certainly is – the way of the future.

Food colouring goes natural

Chr. Hansen has the natural products, along with the expertise, and experience to help food and beverage manufacturers deliver consumers visually enticing products.

Food and beverage manufacturers go to a lot of trouble to ensure their products meet consumers’ aesthetic expectations. After all, if it weren’t for food colouring, hot dogs would be grey, margarine would be white, and red gummies wouldn’t exist.

But why do they bother? After all, isn’t food all about taste?

No, says Lisa Flower, marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand at Chr. Hansen. “People eat with their eyes – and the visual appeal of a food is strongly linked to its colour,” she told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“Colour has an important role to play in the first impressions that are made. Colour also plays a role in the expectations of the consumer of the food. In fact, it can even be the reason a consumer chooses one product over another.”

While historically most food colouring has been artificial, things have changed. Natural food colouring is one of the major trends in the industry.

“The release of the 2007 Southhampton study on the impact of certain artificial colours on children’s behaviour really fast-tracked this conversion,” said Flower.

Though contentious, the study suggested a link between artificial colours and hyperactivity in children; and prompted the European Union to require some colours to carry the statement: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children” on labelling.

Although there is no such labelling requirement in Australia and New Zealand, the move away from artificial colouring has also taken hold here.

Aldi, Woolworths and Coles responded to the demand by ensuring all of their private label products did not contain artificial colours. And most manufacturers in Australia and New Zealand have also converted their products to natural colours.

According to Flower, there is now another option for brands who want even cleaner labels.

“This is known as colouring foodstuffs. While natural colours are typically extracts from a natural source and may attract an E-number (a European code used to list permitted food additives on labelling), colouring foodstuffs are concentrates of the juice of a fruit or vegetable and can simply be labelled as this, for example red beet concentrate or sweet potato concentrate,” she said.

Chr Hansen

Chr. Hansen offers a spectrum of natural colours (including curcumin, paprika, cochineal, annatto and beta-carotene) and colouring foodstuffs (including red beet, sweet potato, black carrot and spirulina).

All are either extracts or concentrates of the colour from a natural source. These could be from fruits, vegetables and even fungi, algae, seeds or insects.

These products are suitable for everything from beverages and confectionery to cheese, desserts and ice cream.

While acknowledging that it is sometimes difficult to replace an artificial colour with a natural one, Flower maintains it doesn’t have to be.

“There are some formulations and interactions between ingredients that make conversion tricky or more expensive to implement. But with the right conversion partner, you can find the natural colour or colouring foodstuff alternative that makes sense for your brand and product and gives your consumers what they are looking for,” she said.

Chr. Hansen considers itself well placed to be such a partner.

“Natural colours lend themselves to most applications, although it is very important to consider the different factors such as processing conditions, temperature, light exposure, pH, acidity and the other ingredients to ensure the right colour is selected for the product,” said Flower.

“Chr. Hansen has a highly experienced sales and technical team based in Australia along with global application centres that offer full technical support to customers to assist  conversion and application questions.”

The first step in this process involves establishing if the client is looking to avoid E numbers completely, or is simply looking to avoid artificial colours.

Further questions revolve around what colour and shade the client is looking to achieve, the desired shelf life of the products, the type of packaging to be used and storage conditions; as well as processing conditions like high temperature, time, pH and other ingredients, fortifications or flavours used in the formulation.

Consumers willing to pay more for natural colours and flavours – research

Consumers are happy to pay a premium of nearly 50 per cent for food and drink formulated with natural ingredients, according to a survey commissioned by Lycored.

In the online poll, researchers asked 506 US consumers whether they would be prepared to spend more on a product if it was made with natural flavourings and colours. In total, 88 per cent said they would.

This group of consumers was then told that the average flavoured milk beverage costs US$1.50 and they were asked how much they would be willing spend on a product if it was made with natural ingredients. On average, they said they would pay up to $2.20 – 47 per cent more.

The survey also found that the respondents preferred the appearance of natural colours even when they were not told they were natural. The researchers asked the respondents to express their visual perceptions of naturalness when presented with two flavoured milk drinks formulated with Lycored’s Tomat-O-Red natural colours and another made with Red 3, an artificial colorant. They were not informed which was which, and were asked to rate them on a 10 point scale in which 0 was ‘not at all natural’ and 10 was ‘extremely natural’.

Lycored’s Tomat-O-Red RP, which is designed for use in a wide range of foods and beverages, performed best, with consumers rating it the most natural looking. It was followed by Tomat-O-Red R, which was developed for products that contain oil and fat. The artificial colorant, Red 3, was ranked third most natural looking.

“Our research delivers two key learnings. Firstly, consumers are willing to pay significantly more for the reassurance that a product contains natural colours and flavours,” said Christiane Lippert, Head of Marketing (Food) at Lycored.

“Secondly, they find natural colours more appealing from a visual perspective. For food and beverage manufacturers there is a clear message here: using natural ingredients in formulations will resonate with shoppers and enable you to charge more for your products, boosting sales and profits.”

Colouring food naturally works best says Lycored

Lycored, a global leader in carotenoids, says it has overcome the most common technical problems with natural colours to develop a range of vibrant reds, oranges and yellows that make it easy for food and beverage manufacturers to ditch artificial ingredients for good.

Natural colours from Lycored are certified Kosher and Halal, non-GMO, vegetarian and are heat, light and pH stable. They give an authentic appearance to a wide range of products time after time – but not at the expense of a clean label.

Available in the Lycored natural colourings range are two new offerings:

•    Tomat-O-Red – created using tomato-derived lycopene, it offers a more technically sound red colouring alternative to unstable beetroot and anthocyanins, as well as carmine, which is not vegetarian-friendly. It is designed for use in fruit preparations, dairy products, confectionery, meat, baked goods and beverages. Lycored’s lycopene is highly stable under a wide range of pH, ascorbic acid and high-temperature conditions. 

•    Lyc-O-Beta – sourced from Blakeslea trispora, a beta-carotene-rich, allergen-free natural fungus cultivated by Lycored. Natural beta-carotene extracted from Blakeslea Trispora offers a spectrum of yellow to orange shades for use in bakery, fillings, confectionery, dairy and beverages. 

Both ingredients are available in liquid formats in a range of different formulations designed to deliver varying levels of colour intensity and are approved for use as food colourants in Australia. 

Tomat-O-Red and Lyc-O-Beta also offer other application benefits. In beverages, they are light stable and stable alongside added healthy ingredients such as Vitamin C. They are perfect for dairy products because they are stable in pasteurisation and most UHT processes, and when used in fruit yoghurts they will not bleed into the white mass. In confectionery, meanwhile, they offer a safe, natural and visually appealing colour that will delight children.

Tamara Higgins, Lycored’s Global Category Manager for Coloration, said: “There’s huge pressure on food and beverage manufacturers to use natural colours but this can cause a range of technical problems at the point of production. Our natural colours portfolio has been designed to offer the best of everything ¬– naturalness and superb appearance, but not at the expense of performance and functionality. With our colours, your food and beverage products won’t just look fantastic, but they’ll also be natural, safe and stable – everything today’s retailers and consumers want and expect.”