KANSAS CITY — Colors in a retail product may catch a consumer’s eye, increasing the chance of purchase, and that holds true in trending beverages. Plant-based milk alternatives and kombucha may present sales opportunities but color stability concerns as well.

Mintel’s “Non-dairy milk U.S. 2017 report” estimated that non-dairy milk sales grew 61% since 2012 and climbed to $2.1 billion in 2017. Almond with a 64% market share, soy with a 13% market share and coconut with a 12% market share were category leaders in non-dairy milk.

Stability and pH levels may present color concerns in such products.

“Colors sourced from anthocyanins have limited stability in soy- and almond-based products,” said Ashlee Martin, senior application scientist for Chr. Hansen, which has a U.S. office in Milwaukee. “Along with the short-term stability, these plant-based products have an additional background color that will need to be worked with.”

Alternative milks present technical challenges because they have a neutral pH, some have an intrinsic tanned-yellowish base color, and their processing conditions may include high temperatures (U.H.T.), said Maria Jose Alarcon, product experience marketing manager for colors with Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago.

Almond milkMichael Serrur, director of communications for GNT USA, Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y., added, “Natural yellows, oranges and reds perform well in alternative milk products, especially when these products are stored refrigerated or chilled. Shelf-stable alternative milk products have to go through a more rigorous treatment process, which may have an impact on their color intensity over time.”

Color and pH also come into play with kombucha.

“Kombucha has a naturally low pH, which makes it a particularly good candidate for red, pink and purple color shades,” Mr. Serrur said.

Ms. Alarcon said the low pH level (2.5 to 4) of kombucha allows certain colors to be used, but kombucha has a natural tan/brown base color, which may affect the final shade.

“The presence of alcohol might also impact performance,” she said. “In rare circumstances, the alcohol can continue to ferment inside the bottle if cultures have the nutrients needed to do so. Refrigeration ensures that the alcohol remains limited at low levels (less than 0.5% alcohol by volume).”

Grand View Research, Inc., San Francisco, forecasts the global kombucha market to register a compound annual growth rate of 23% to reach $5.45 billion by 2025.

A demand for natural

Using naturally sourced colors may increase consumer demand for many beverage applications, as well as food applications.

ADM offers Colors from Nature, a range of acid-stable and heat-stable colors. The colors were used when ADM created a purple energy drink prototype with chia that featured a naturally derived purple color blend.

ADM colored beverages“We have a patented blue color derived from fruit juices that is stable at every pH, which means we can apply it to almost every type of food,” Ms. Alarcon said. “Plus, our color experts can combine this unique blue with other colors to make purple, green and brown color blends, allowing a complete palette and more creativity to meet consumer demand.”

MarketsandMarkets, Pune, India, forecasts the global food colors market, at an estimated $3.8 billion in 2018, to have a compound annual growth rate of 5.7% to reach $5.12 billion by 2023. Rising demand for naturally sourced colors is fueling the market, according to MarketsandMarkets.

“There’s a lot to think about when formulating products using naturally derived colors,” Ms. Alarcon said. “A wide range of factors — including pH, packaging, base color, processing conditions, temperature and shelf life — can impact stability and performance of naturally derived colors in a particular application.”

Formulation technology is important for developing and supplying naturally sourced colors that are stable and readily available for all applications, said Brianna Fyock, a scientist for Chr. Hansen.

“In addition to advanced formulations, we continue to optimize extraction methods and increase our knowledge in agronomy and plant breeding,” she said.

While naturally sourced colors remain in demand across many categories, GNT USA recently has noticed an increase in project requests for naturally sourced colors for confectionery, ready-to-drink alcohol and meat substitute products, Mr. Serrur said.

“The primary purpose of color is to make a food or beverage visually appealing, but it is also used to indicate and confirm a flavor profile, encourage consumer trial and differentiate one product from another,” Mr. Serrur said.

Color and flavor should work as a team, said Shane T. McDonald, Ph.D., a flavor chemist for Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich., in a presentation in July in Chicago at IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and expo. Favorable congruent color effects may increase flavor recognition and modify favorable perception. Congruent color effects may increase flavor recognition, the perception of richness in orange juice, the perception of pungency in salsa, the perception of sweetness in beverages, and the perception of chocolate flavor.

Formulators also may consider pairing a color with an unexpected flavor, like blue raspberry. The deliberate mismatch may grab the attention of consumers.