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Craving colorful, but natural: Growing appetite for farm-grown dyes takes bite out of synthetic pigments market

Consumer appetite for artificial food dyes is waning, motivating more formulators to switch out artificial dyes for farm-grown “coloring foods.” Vibrant and shelf-stable plant-based food pigments are in high demand this year, with significant attention paid to eye-catching shades that tick both clean label and sustainable boxes. The expansion of the plant-based meat space, meanwhile, is opening up broader applications for natural colors.

“The biggest change has been the sheer diverse requirement of natural colors. All across the world, we are seeing the switch from artificial to natural colors. However, the need in Italy is different from that in Brazil or Thailand, for instance. This means that we need to be extremely flexible and agile in how we produce and customize our colors to meet the specific regional or country desire,” explains Neil Norouzi, Global Category Manager – Natural Colors at Roha Group.

Roha Group’s Natracol Noble pigments offer non-bleeding and non-migrating properties for food and beverage applications. The migration of color between two layers is a common problem in many applications that formulators struggle with regularly. A typical example is yogurt containing one layer of processed fruit in the bottom, which can sometimes bleed into the white yogurt layer above it.

Under Natracol Noble pigments is a plant-based red pigment using beta-Carotene, an organic, strongly colored red-orange pigment abundant in plants and fruits. Roha Group’s Natracol Beta-carotene 10% Red Emulsion ingredient is manufactured using encapsulation technology that converts oil-soluble beta-carotene into water-soluble stable food coloring. The same technology is applied to produce Natracol Noble’s range of vegetable origin yellow pigments made using curcumin (Turmeric E100).

Due to the climate sensitivity of plant-based ingredients, protecting these ingredients from light or heat are key challenges faced in the natural colors industry. “These natural products are not meant to be stored for one or two years under intense light in a supermarket. However, using innovative processes and the correct natural additives, we can create more stable natural colors while maintaining the clean label requirements. Of course, each customer has their own needs and Roha has the capabilities to customize and modify their products to suit the particular customer,” says Norouzi.

Phasing out titanium dioxide
The demand for alternatives to Titanium Dioxide has grown consistently over the years, especially since some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other food activists have started conversations about the ingredient. Combined with the overall push to “naturalness,” this has inspired product renovation across many consumer packaged food companies.

Observing the growing number of food manufacturers showing interest in finding alternative opacity and whitening solutions, it has been a focal point of interest, as well as a challenge to achieve a true white without using Titanium Dioxide.

“Sensient has picked up this challenge and launched Avalanche – the alternative white. Titanium Dioxide is brilliantly white and inert to almost anything, so any sort of replacement will need to make compromises or be limited to certain applications. This means that there can be no universal Titanium Dioxide replacement,” says Nina Borth, Marketing Director, Food Colors Europe at Sensient.

Sensient’s Avalanche range is a global portfolio Titanium Dioxide replacers and offers strong whitening or opacifying effects, performing well in a range of applications including confectionery, instant drinks, sauces and pet food. The natural white opacifier is designed to be used in any pH system and application.

Growing green
The topic of sustainability has become a core strategy for many packaged food retailers. Companies wishing to be successful long-term and remain competitive in a mature market increasingly sought to differentiate from their competitors by integrating sustainability into the heart of their activities.

Sensient has expressed ample interest in promoting the sustainable practice of cultivating plant-based colors. “Eight years ago, Sensient Food Colors Europe were pioneers in the introduction of the first palm-free color range on the market. Today, the topic of palm-containing ingredients in food and beverage products is broadly discussed and highlighted frequently. In light of the environmental and ethical debate, as well as corporate sustainability agendas, customers contact us more frequently in pursuit of alternative options to palm-containing ingredients,” says Borth.

Sensient markets its brand as pioneering in the market of palm-free colors enabling customers to completely avoid the need to use palm oil-based coloring preparations and is working to expand its portfolio across a wide range of different applications. Sensient’s palm-free range focuses on using a novel selection of exclusively palm-free components, chosen through the company’s appointed research program to ensure improved stability. The latest extensions to this range include new green and yellow shades offering performance in beverage applications, as well as confectionery, dairy and savory products.

Farm-grown eye candy
The rise of social media and consumers’ increasing interest in clean label products have created the perfect storm for the proliferation of the natural colors trend, which is leading to the gradual phase-out of artificial colors. Platforms such as Instagram have given the appearance – specifically color – of food extra gravity and industry is making strides to optimize their offerings targeting planet-aware consumers living and eating in an “Instagrammable” world.

“Classic Blue” has been tipped as Pantone’s 2020 color of the year, alongside GNT’s “Shades of Aqua.” “We launched our Love Color campaign for 2020 at Food Ingredients Europe in December – we believe Shades of Aqua’s vivid blues and greens will drive innovation this year as consumers seek to reconnect with nature,” says Maartje Hendrickx, Market Development Manager at GNT Group.

“Shades of Aqua really chime with consumers’ desire to feel at one with the world around them – they evoke thoughts of the sea and mountains. Blue can also be a really eye-catching, unexpected color in food and drink, so it’s ideal for creating Instagrammable products. The blue Exberry shades are sourced from spirulina, which is edible algae containing a naturally occurring colorful pigment called phycocyanin. To produce green shades, a spirulina concentrate is mixed with a yellow plant pigment, such as safflower or pumpkin,” she explains.

GNT’s Exberry pigments, available in both liquid and powder formats are made using gentle, physical processes such as pressing, chopping, filtering and concentrating, with no chemical solvents. As no synthetic chemicals are utilized in production of these dyes, the entirety of Exberry’s production chain is free from risk of expelling chemical pollutants that enter. After processing, the organic waste output is used as livestock feed. Up to ninety-five percent of all raw material residues are utilized for feed (GMP+ certified) or biogas production.

What’s next?
The role of natural food colors will remain highly significant in the development of successful new offerings in the coming year. As highlighted in Innova Market Insights’ latest report, a product’s visual aesthetic, alongside craveable flavor attributes, is highly essential in conveying markers of indulgence and wellness properties.

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