The colour of a food or drink strongly affects how people perceive its flavour and freshness, and pressure is on to find natural options that are vibrant, shelf stable, heat-, light- and pH-stable and cost effective.
Although the use of natural food colouring has become the European norm, in many cases manufacturers are going further still, demanding colouring foodstuffs concentrated from foods themselves. Food and drink makers are already motivated to find natural alternatives to synthetic colours, as nearly two-thirds of global consumers (61%) say they avoid artificial colours, according to Nielsen data. Figures from Mintel show that global use of natural colours overtook synthetic in value terms back in 2011, and more than 90% of new European product launches have been naturally coloured since 2012.
As the trend for natural colours and clean labels continues to grow, several companies have seen increased sales of colouring foodstuffs, concentrated extracts of fruits, vegetables and plants used to colour foods and drinks. Compared with natural colours, colouring foodstuffs have the added advantage of being classed as ingredients rather than additives, meaning they do not need an E number classification. Major suppliers include Chr Hansen, Wild, Naturex and Frutarom, among others.
GNT Group is one company with a strong focus on the interplay between colour and flavour. Its own research suggests that unusual and exotic colours help increase appetite and enjoyment of snack products and that consumers find bright purple colours suggestive of nutritional benefits. This could be particularly important in vegetable snacks made from brightly coloured vegetables like beets, kale and carrots, for example.
The way brands communicate colouring sources can also enhance their positive impact, GNT has found. In research conducted with TNS, it found the claim “coloured with fruit and vegetables” led to significant brand preference, even when a product came with a cost premium.
For suppliers of natural colours and colouring foodstuffs, the rise of social media offers new opportunities to engage with end consumers – a group that was previously out of reach for many ingredient companies. It has highlighted the importance of visual appeal in different kinds of foods and drinks, and can provide useful insights into the kind of colouring that is most important to consumers in different demographics and geographies.
While Europe is the world’s largest market for natural colours, demand continues to grow rapidly, particularly in North America and the Asia Pacific region, according to Food Market Insights, meaning there is still plenty of global growth potential for suppliers.