Red pigments constitute about half of the overall naturally-sourced color market, but red comes in third in beverage colors used.

Most common beverage colors

Brown is the leading hue for non-alcohol beverages, excluding bottled water, coffee and juices, followed by yellow/orange and red, according to Innova Market Insights, Ouiven, The Netherlands.

Sethness Products Co., Skokie, Ill., offers more than 80 caramel colors. The company spent more than three years developing low 4 methylimidazole (4 Mel) alternatives for its Class IV liquid and powdered caramel colors in response to California’s Proposition 65, which requires warning labels be added to products that contain levels of substances that exceed established “safe harbor” minimums. Class IV caramel color is what’s used most often in cola beverages. The company also has a minimally processed Class I caramel for beverage systems.

“Most recently, to meet the demand for cleaner labels, we created a line of caramel colors that are not derived from genetically modified organisms,” said Brian Sethness, senior account executive. “We are currently working with the Non-GMO Project to obtain Non-GMO Project Verification on all of our non-G.M.O. caramel colors and caramelized sugar syrups.”

Sensient Food Colors, St. Louis, offers solutions for beverage manufacturers who want brown without the use of caramel color. The company explained this does not come easily, as there are a number of obstacles, including stability to light and heat, low pH environment, presence of vitamin C and cost-in use. Novel sources of natural brown, such as Sensient’s sienna fruit juice, are making the switch from caramel a bit easier. The brown fruit juice may be used either by itself or in combination with other juices for varying shades of brown.

After brown, the yellow/orange shade is second most common in beverage, with beta-carotene — a carotenoid — one of the most sourced non-artificial orange colors.

“It is also a shade that poses a range of challenges in the form of added costs, compromised product performance and application complexity,” Mr. Jouenne said. “Typical issues when using non-artificial color emulsions in the final application are color shifting and the appearance of neck ringing, and in production, poor dispersion and dissolving.”

Turbidity also has a significant impact on color appearance and most carotenoids are more turbid than certified colors. There are different ways to formulate beta carotene emulsions, using various emulsifiers, alone or in combination, to provide the proper shade, functionality and shelf life. Micro emulsions are able to provide transparent shades in beverage application where no cloud is desired. Other formulations, using modified food starch or gums are able to provide the desired shade as well as a clouding effect for the beverage.

“Beverages that are packaged in clear bottles can be challenging to color with carotenoid pigments, as the transparency allows light to induce oxidation of the pigments, which causes the pigment to fade,” said Carol Locey, director-product management, colors, Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich. “These challenges are overcome with the addition of natural antioxidants such as rosemary extract, tocopherols and vitamin C.”

Whereas red pigments constitute about half of the overall naturally-sourced color market, red comes in third in beverages. Red shades are typically not a challenge using anthocyanins or blends containing anthocyanins for low pH beverages, providing that vitamin C is not part of the formulation.

“Anthocyanins change from red in the acidic pH range to violet in the alkaline pH range,” said Tracy Takeda, technical sales specialist, San Joaquin Valley Concentrates, Fresno, Calif. “This is further intensified in the presence of vitamin C, which is known to destabilize anthocyanins.”

With 100% vitamin C fortification one of the most common claims in today’s beverage industry, it is important to choose a highly stabilized anthocyanin color.

“Fruit-derived anthocyanins are less complex molecules than vegetable-based colors, making them more susceptible to loss of red color and increase in brown color,” Ms. Takeda said.

Recently through a partnership with the University of California, Davis, San Joaquin Valley Concentrates developed a hybrid varietal from Rubired grape.

“The Rubired anthocyanins have a unique molecular structure that provides protection against oxidation, polymerization and color degradation in conditions of heat and light stress,” Ms. Takeda said. Another new offering is a bright red color that is an all-vegetable replacement for carmine in acidic formulations.

The company produces crystal colors for the beverage industry using a method of drying that produces a dry color that is superior to typical spray-dried powders, which clump and have delayed solubility, Ms. Takeda said.

“The crystal colors disperse easily, solubilize quickly in beverages and support a zero-calorie claim,” she said.

Shades of brown, yellow/orange and red might be the leading colors in beverages, but what about some others?

“The most challenging colors are blue and green because most beverages are acidic, and blue and green, which are sourced from spirulina, are not stable at low pH,” Ms. Renner-Nantz said. “They tend to perform better in less acidic drinks, such as smoothies, flavored milk and other dairy beverages. But then there can be issues with high-temperature pasteurization.”

She concludes by stating, “Europe’s switch to eliminate artificial colors in children’s products has also influenced U.S. consumer demand. Certain categories will continue to include artificial colors for stability and economy. For example, sports drinks in blue and green hues will continue to use certified colors. But for all new beverage product development projects, natural color is the future.”