Dutch company debuts blue food coloring made from algae
GNT Group has introduced high-intensity blue food coloring made from spirulina, a blue-green algae. It is available in both standard and micronized powder form, the company said in a release. The Exberry brand of high-intensity blue powders contains no trehalose, a type of sugar.
The company said the new products allow food and beverage makers to formulate instant beverages, hard-panned items, fondant icing, white chocolate and other products with a higher-intensity blue color made from a natural and traceable source.
"The challenge of achieving vibrant blue colors in food using only ingredients from a natural origin is well understood. However, naturalness is what consumers are demanding so there is pressure on manufacturers to deliver that," Sonja Scheffler, GNT product manager, said in the release.
It's been difficult to produce naturally sourced high-intensity blue hues for foods and beverages. As a result, the market demand for them is high as consumers flock to clean label and increasingly care more about what goes into the foods they eat. This has been a boon to companies like GNT. The company said it recently doubled spirulina processing capacity at its state-of-the-art facility in the Netherlands.
Natural colors have become a big way for food companies to attract consumers to products. A 2017 global consumer survey from GNT found 79% of consumers define "natural" as being made without artificial colors. Because of this sentiment, manufacturers have been phasing them out in their products and shifting to natural ingredients with strong colors. In recent years, Hershey, General Mills, Nestlé, Campbell Soup and other food giants have created new items or reformulated older recipes without artificial colors.
While blue is the favorite color for many consumers, it performs functions beyond just visual appeal. Colors also tease anticipated flavors to consumers. Research found 90% of shoppers make up their minds about buying a product from its color and perceived taste. If the color is appealing, they're more likely to buy it.
Colorful foods are particularly popular with millennials since they use Instagram and other social media platforms to show off their latest treats. Colorful and delicious-looking food is more likely to be photographed and shared with friends and family on social media — giving manufacturers another potential marketing boost.
Many food and beverage manufacturers have been using bright colors to attract consumers. Recently, Barry Callebaut launched a new ruby chocolate, Kellogg started a cupcake-flavored Unicorn Cereal with pink, purple and blue rings, and Campbell's Pepperidge Farm debuted Goldfish Colors snack crackers with hues sourced from plants. This trend could push more CPGs to use colorful natural ingredients, such as the GNT blue hues, when creating new products.
Algae has become a popular source of natural pigment to color foods. According to the New York Times, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a petition from Mars in 2013 to use spirulina to make a natural blue coloring for food. In 2015, Sensient Food Colors Europe developed a vibrant natural blue color extracted from spirulina that could be used in confections, gum, ice cream, sorbet and frostings.
Mars had long sought a natural source of blue for its M&Ms, but only recently have Ohio State University food scientists come up with a vegetable-based blue coloring for that product, Skittles and other Mars candies. They were issued a patent in November 2018 for the dye made from red cabbage and purple sweet potato.
As these natural blue coloring ingredients become more common, it's possible the artificial blue shade used in products like General Mills' Trix cereal and Hershey's Jolly Rancher blue raspberry hard candy will become a less familiar sight on labels as they are replaced with new blue-green algae ingredients.