Hasbro still makes “Twister,” the game where players hear such commands as “left foot, yellow” or “right hand, red.” Food and beverage formulators may feel like they have played their own version of Twister recently. Last year demand for naturally-sourced colors started rising in the category of “beverages, red.” This year it’s demand for “mac and cheese, yellow.” Who knows? Next year the consumer trending arrow may spin to “ice cream, blue.”

Interest in naturally-sourced colors is rising. Global sales in 2011 were estimated at $600 million, up by almost 29% from 2007, in a report from Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research released Feb. 28 of this year. Global sales of artificial/synthetic colors in 2011 were estimated at $570 million, up less than 4% from 2007. The report predicts the trend toward greater use of naturally-sourced colors will continue, especially in premium food and drink segments and products positioned for children.

Mac and cheese, yellow

Some mothers may seek more natural macaroni and cheese products for their children. In this instance, formulators may find that annatto extracts and colors sourced from vegetables may offer alternatives to the yellow 5 and yellow 6 colors, both F.D.&C. colors.

The right combination of carrot-sourced color and pumpkin-sourced color may allow formulators to achieve a desired yellow color, said Stefan Hake, chief executive officer of GNT USA, Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y., which focuses on manufacturing colors derived from edible fruits and vegetables. The company generally uses a variety of sources, and not one source, to find the right color, he said.

“What we see overall is there is a strong trend toward ingredients that the consumer can recognize and identify with,” Mr. Hake said.

Both annatto extract and natural beta-carotene, specifically in macaroni and cheese, may provide a vibrant yellowish orange hue, said Campbell Barnum, vice-president of branding and market development for D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky.

“In this application, companies need to consider the higher cost-in-use for naturally-derived coloring compared to F.D.&C. yellow 5 and yellow 6,” he said. “The higher dosage required may impact flavor.”

D.D. Williamson will showcase certified organic annatto extract powder at its booth during the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food expo July 13-16 in Chicago.

ROHA USA, L.L.C., St. Louis, also offers colors of natural origin to replace yellow 5 and yellow 6 in macaroni and cheese.

“Cost in use will be a primary concern,” said Rajesh Cherian, manager-application support (natural colors) for ROHA. “If it is a huge requirement, availability of colors at constant price can be an issue, which can be avoided by working with a color supplier at the early stages of product development.”

Naturally-sourced colors in the NAT color range from Naturex, Avignon, France, may serve as alternatives to yellow 5 and yellow 6, said Nathalie Pauleau, business manager.

“Annatto extract or paprika/turmeric mixes are still the best choices for matching the characteristic yellow shade of macaroni and cheese,” she said.

Pacific Foods, Tulatin, Ore., used annatto for color in formulating ready-to-eat, shelf stable macaroni and cheese this year.

Likewise, Annie’s Inc., Berkeley, Calif., included annatto extracts when introducing three macaroni and cheese microwavable cups: aged cheddar, white cheddar and gluten-free rice pasta and cheddar.

“The development was very difficult for us to get a product that performed to consumer expectations without all the artificial ingredients,” said John Foraker, chief executive officer for Annie’s, in a June 10 conference call. “We’ve developed what we think is a fantastic offering, and we believe Annie’s consumers are going to really like it.”

Mr. Hake said microwaving macaroni and cheese generally does not have much of an effect on color because the product is not heated long enough.

Annie’s ranked second among brands of dry macaroni and cheese mixes with U.S. retail sales of $73,287,620 for the 52 weeks ended May 19, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. Kraft Foods Inc. led the category with sales of $941,517,600. The sales covered supermarkets, drug stores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains.

Two bloggers this year took exception to Kraft’s macaroni and cheese products. Vani Hari from “Food Babe” and Lisa Leake from “100 Days of Real Food” started a petition at change.org asking Kraft to take out yellow 5 and yellow 6.

A Kraft Collaborative Kitchen web site welcomes innovative ideas for product formulation. A posting on April 4 said the company was seeking a clean label colorant to replace yellow 5 and yellow 6 in dry cheese powder. The posting said the colorant must be heat-stable, low-cost, be able to stain pasta and have no off-flavor. The posting sought a colorant derived from fruits and vegetables and a colorant that has a “kitchen friendly” ingredient name.

Companies using yellow 5 and yellow 6 in products should have no legal worries from the U.S. government, but the two colors are among the “Southampton Six.” A study at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom found intake of artificial food color might affect childhood behavior. The study appeared in the Nov. 3-9, 2007, issue of The Lancet.

The six colors involved were sunset yellow (yellow 6 in the United States), tartrazine (yellow 5), allura red (red 40), carmoisine, ponceau and quinolone yellow.

“The results of the ‘Southampton Six’ study has really accelerated the move toward natural colors in Europe, but other regions also are following suit as the consumer demand for more natural formulations builds and as key producers and retailers look to phase out artificial ingredients,” said Chris Brockman, senior global and food drink analyst at Mintel, in the Feb. 28 report.

A Food Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on March 31, 2011, voted that a causal relationship had not been established between certain color additives in food and hyperactivity in children in the general population. The committee voted against disclosing additional information on the product label of foods containing certified color additives.

Beverages, red

In 2012 Starbucks Corp., Seattle, replaced synthetic red colors with cochineal insect extracts in its Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino blended beverage and its strawberry banana smoothie. Vegans, who avoid eating foods derived from living beings, including insects, protested and drew the attention of many non-vegans, who did not want insect parts in their drinks. Starbucks switched colors again, using lycopene for the red color.

The resulting industry demand for naturally-sourced, insect-free red colors led to increased sales for Tomat-O-Red, a patented food coloring based on lycopene extract from tomatoes.

LycoRed Ltd., which is based in Israel and has a U.S. office in Orange, N.J., this year developed new formulations of vegetarian red colorants as part of its Tomat-O-Red line. The new formulations provide deeper red lycopene color with blue backgrounds, similar to the shades of carmine, a pigment derived from cochineal. The formulations are available in liquid forms, vegetarian and free from any allergenic components. LycoRed will showcase the new lycopene color line during the I.F.T. event in Chicago.

Chr. Hansen, which has a U.S. office in Milwaukee, last year introduced Ultra Stable Red based on anthocyanin blends combining stabilizing technology. The color may work in carbonated soft drinks, juice-based drinks, sports and energy drinks, and vitamin waters.

Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich., has developed anthocyanin colors for use in beverages, confectionery, jams, fillings and yogurts. The colors are available in hues of orange red to more purple red and may replace carmine and red 40 in many applications, said Carol Locey, director, product management, colors, for Kalsec.

A new technology developed by Sensient may apply to red colors, said Steve Morris, general manager at Sensient U.S. Food Colors, St. Louis.

“We recently launched our new advanced emulsion technology (A.E.T.),” he said. “This emulsion technology combines multiple oil- and water-based natural colors in a single delivery system, thus achieving new natural color shades that were previously unattainable using traditional technology. With this technology, we can now provide carmine replacement red shades, prevent color bleed and equipment staining, and improve color consistency.”

Future, blue

A future color twist may come in blue. GNT has filed a petition with the F.D.A. for a brilliant blue color sourced from spirulina, an algae, Mr. Hake said. No doubt F.D.A. approval would further advance the naturally-sourced trend.

“The drive for natural food formulations will endure in the global food and drink industry as consumers continue to seek simplicity and purity in food and drink ingredients lists,” said Rachel Wilson, principal technical adviser at Leatherhead Food Research, in the Feb. 28 report.