Color cues flavor and, because we taste with our eyes before our palate, color is important to foods and beverages. A few years ago, beverage formulators were aggressively developing clear and colorless products, as the opinion was it conveyed a “cleaner label.” But the reality is educated consumers wondered how a bottle of water that tastes like pomegranate not possess a drop of the superfruit’s characteristic anythocyanin-rich color?

Today, beverage formulators are trending away from clear and colorless, in particular with adult-focused beverages.

“But depending on the beverage, consumers don’t necessarily want the extreme, robust colors of the past,” said Tammi Higgins, commercial development manager of natural colors for FMC Corp., Philadelphia. “Especially in better-for-you beverages, overly vibrant colors are perceived as being fake to the product. Consumers want products that look more ‘au naturel.’”

The Food and Drug Administration does not consider any color added to a beverage as being natural, unless the color is natural to the product itself. This would be the case with pomegranate-flavored water colored with pomegranate juice.

Providing that none of the other ingredients in the beverage were characterized as artificial, the product may be labeled “all-natural pomegranate water.” Such a description would not be possible if beet juice, an F.D.A.-recognized color additive, was used for a colorful boost.

The term color additive is legally defined in Title 21, Part 70 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 C.F.R. 70). Basically, any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding color to a food or beverage is a color additive, with all color additives requiring approval by the F.D.A. as a food additive.

The F.D.A. classifies color additives as either “certified” or “exempt from certification.” The former also is referred to as artificial or synthetic; and the latter, by default, is often characterized as natural.

In general, artificial colors are manufactured from petroleum-based raw materials. Colors exempt from certification are obtained from a variety of sources, including plants, minerals, insects and fermentation, resources considered by many to be natural. Both pomegranate juice and beet juice are exempt from certification. But if beet juice is used to convey pomegranate, it is artificial to that application.

The market for colors

A report from Chicago-based Mintel and U.K.-based Leatherhead Food Research, entitled “Food colors: Market, technical and regulatory insights,” reveals that for the first time, the value of naturally sourced colors has overtaken that of artificial colors on a global basis. According to the report, in 2011 global sales of naturally sourced colors amounted to an estimated $600 million, up by almost 29% from 2007, demonstrating an annual growth in excess of 7%. Per cent share increased from slightly more than a third (34%) in 2007 to nearly 39% in 2011.

In contrast, growth within the artificial colors market has been more modest, with value sales increasing by less than 4% between 2007 and 2011. The segment is now worth an estimated $570 million, which is equivalent to 37% of the overall market (compared to 40% in 2007).

Overall, the global market for food colors was worth an estimated $1.55 billion in 2011. (The remaining 24% of sales comes from the categories of nature-identical colors and caramel coloring. Nature-identical colors are manufactured by chemical synthesis to perfectly match naturally sourced colors.) This represents growth of 13% from 2007. However, while developing, average annual growth levels currently lie between 2% and 3%, down from the 4% to 5% increases experienced throughout most of the previous decade.

“Much of this slowdown in growth can be attributed to the global economic recession, and its subsequent effect on
consumer expenditure on many sectors of the global food and drinks industry, as well as the continued decline in demand for artificial/synthetic food colorings,” said Chris Brockman, senior global food and drink analyst at Mintel.

“The results of the Southampton Six study really accelerated the move toward natural colors in Europe, but other regions are also following suit as the consumer demand for more natural formulations builds and as key producers and retailers look to phase out artificial ingredients,” Mr. Brockman said.

According to the report, from 2009 to 2011, 15% of the new food and beverage launches in Europe used artificial colors. The remaining 85% used natural colors. In North America, the per cent share was split equally.

“But over the same period, in North America, 77% of new non-alcoholic beverage launches used artificial colors, while only a mere 23% used naturally sourced colors,” Mr. Brockman said. “In Europe, these figures are basically reversed, with 70% of new non-alcoholic beverages using natural colors and 30% using artificial ones.”

It should be no surprise North American natural color use is higher in better-for-you beverages and lowest in carbonated soft drinks, he explained.

“More than three-fourths of global carbonated soft drink launches used synthetic colors, with this figure driven primarily by North American companies.”

The report predicts the trend toward greater use of naturally sourced colors will continue, especially within premium food and drink segments and in products positioned for children. This is exemplified in new YoKids Smoothies from Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H.

The new YoKids Smoothies start with a base of organic low-fat yogurt and blend in organic fruit and vegetable purees for flavor and nutrition and organic fruit and vegetables concentrated juices for color.

Both varieties are marketed as not containing any artificial ingredients. The Strawbana flavor contains carrot, strawberry and banana purees, along with radish and black currant juice concentrates for color. Very Berry contains sweet potato, raspberry and strawberry purees. And for color, there’s added carrot juice concentrate.

Understanding the options

In the United States, there are seven certified color additives, which are identified in 21 C.F.R. Part 74. They are approved for use following good manufacturing practices in all food and beverage applications. They may be combined into an infinite number of colors; hence, the seven are considered primary colors. All are identified with the prefix F.D.&C., indicating they are part of the F.D.A. color certification protocol and are approved for use in foods, drugs and cosmetics, or F.D.&C.

The seven are further classified as dyes and lakes. Dyes are water-soluble and oil-insoluble, and are the typical form used in beverages.

Lakes are made by combining dyes with aluminum hydroxide, creating aluminum salts that are insoluble compounds. Considered more stable than dyes, lakes color a system by dispersion and are ideal for coloring products that either contain fat or lack sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes.

There are 35 color additives exempt from certification listed in 21 C.F.R. Part 73. Some of the additives are general terms, for example one is “fruit juices,” while another is simply “vegetable juices.” These general categories allow for the use of all types of produce to be squeezed and reduced into a concentrated source of color.

Other common naturally sourced colors used in beverage formulating include annatto extract, beta-carotene, carmine, grape skin extract and lycopene. It is important to note some exempt colors are limited to use in certain food and beverage applications, as well as have maximum use restrictions.

Exempt colors typically are more expensive than certified colors, often due to costs associated with raw material sourcing. Use rates also are typically higher with exempt colors, as they tend to not be pure pigment like their artificial counterparts. They often include carriers or encapsulating materials for protection.

“The trend toward naturally sourced colors for all types of beverages is no longer just a European phenomenon,” said Jens Birrer, global marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products Ltd., which is headquartered in Heerlen, The Netherlands. “U.S. beverage manufacturers are on the hunt for reliable alternatives to certified colors in response to growing consumer demand for more natural, sustainable drinks products.

“We offer nature-identical and natural-sourced carotenoids that can be formulated to produce a wide variety of common colors for beverage applications. They can be applied to create natural looking, brightly colored beverages — in hues ranging from yellow to orange-red — that look just as good if not better than beverages colored with synthetics.”

Beta-carotene also is converted by the body to vitamin A.

“Beta-carotene plays a role as a colorant as well as a nutrient,” said Deshanie Rai, senior scientific leader at DSM’s U.S. headquarters in Parsippany, N.J. “It is a natural, safe source of vitamin A, and in this way, can help the body achieve the vitamin A levels essential for normal growth and development, good vision and eye health, a strong immune system and healthy skin. Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant that helps protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals, which can potentially increase the risk of developing certain diseases, including cardiovascular diseases.”

FMC recently introduced maquiberry juice concentrate for color, which is rich in anthocyanins.

“This naturally sourced color delivers a desirable purple color to beverages at the same time it provides a noteworthy dose of antioxidants,” Ms. Higgins said. “It is sensitive to pH and can only be used in beverages with a pH of 3.5 or lower.”

The company is working with the F.D.A. to obtain color additive approval for chlorophyll, a naturally sourced green color used in many other countries.

“In the past two years we have acquired two color companies, one in Chile and one in the United Kingdom,” Ms. Higgins said. “This gave us access to a number of naturally sourced color additives not approved for use in the United States, but ones that would definitely fill a void. This includes chlorophyll, which can provide a range of green colors.”

Currently most naturally sourced greens are obtained from spinach juice. Chlorophyll provides a better range of greens, said Ms. Higgins.

Jeff Greaves, president of Food Ingredient Solutions L.L.C., Teterboro, N.J., said many naturally sourced colors are actually more suitable for beverages because of their stability to light.

“For example, we offer a purple sweet potato juice that has better light stability in vitamin-C fortified beverages than F.D.&C. Red #40,” he said. “Further, in the United States, we have a very short list of approved certified colors, compared to other countries. They can be mixed to obtain a rainbow of colors, but not every hue under the sun. Naturally sourced colors help fill in the gaps to obtain unique shades, which are often very desirable in trendy beverages.”

Original text

With colorless beverages “fading out” of favor, beverage formulators may combine color additives to obtain any color of the rainbow.