Manufacturers are seeing red (and blue) as consumer demand continues to drive the need for natural colorants and ingredients. Specifically, the need for familiar ingredients without chemical additives is pushing food processors to find new options for red and blue colors.
“Consumers are aware of the ingredients listed on the packaged foods they buy,” says Bulbul Jain, industry manager for beverages at Roha USA LCC, St. Louis. “The top three consumer insight trends are natural, organic and clean label. Consumers prefer shorter and more recognizable ingredients, and companies will continue to develop products with natural and exempt colors as well as organic and non-GMO colorants.”
Perhaps the most recent milestone in food colors was the FDA's approval last fall of spirulina-derived colors, although only for use in candies and chewing gum. The algae-like bacteria has been used as a colorant and food additive around the globe, but it took a petition from Mars Inc. to get its approval in the U.S.
Roha subsequently launched Futurals Spirulina Blue, a natural blue food color for applications such as chewy, jelly and gummy candies and gum. The extract, according to Roha, dissolves easily and produces a vibrant color that can be combined with yellow or red to create natural green, red or purple shades that won’t dull and remain vibrant even in high-acid applications.
Elijah Church, Roha's industry manager for confectionary, says the new natural blue solution is set to be a popular colorant option this year. “Spirulina is undoubtedly the latest and greatest product to shake up the world of food colorants. It is unique as it is the first widely available natural blue color that is stable in a wide range of pH,” he says. “The product has already been developed and used as coloring foodstuff in Europe and is off to a very strong start here in the U.S.”
The company hopes spirulina-derived colors will gain approval for general food use soon.
Spirulina is just one of the sources for a recently launched natural blue color additive from Sensient Food Colors. The other two sources of Natural Blue are vegetable juice-based and can be labeled "vegetable juice (color)" across all food categories including beverage, dairy and processed foods. Natural Blue comes in both liquid and powder forms, is stable at pHs 3.0-7.0, is kosher, halal and GMO-free.
Blue is not the highest volume color on its own, says Michael Geraghty, president of Sensient Colors, but it is a critical color to complete the full natural color spectrum including other dark colors, such as green and purple.
Geraghty also points out Sensient controls its supply chain of natural colors, with traceability back to the field in which the vegetable sources of its colors were grown. In some cases, the company develops and owns the seeds. Sensient also maintains relationships with farmers around the world and tests for pesticides, heavy metals and other contaminants. In most instances, its supplier/growers will certify that products are not genetically engineered.
Blue isn’t the only color in the spotlight. Red continues to be a focus for processors in 2014. Research from Innova Market Insights indicates that red is the most challenging of colors to naturally produce.
Of the 31 technologists polled by D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky., at the biennial Food Ingredients Europe exposition held in Frankfurt this past November, 39 percent said red from natural sources was the most technically challenging for new product development. Green and blue followed with 19 and 13 percent, while black, purple, yellow, brown and orange trailed.
LycoRed launched an educational campaign to explain the differences between its vegetable-derived natural red colorants and carmine, or cochineal-sourced colorants. Carmine reds result from crushing beetle-like insects native to South America. The safety of the color additive has never been questioned, but some consumers are upset when they discover it comes from bugs; others oppose it on vegetarian grounds.
"The challenge is that as companies want to sell to a wider group of consumers with dietary requirements, such as vegan or Kosher, they are forced to find more natural and cleaner ingredient solutions,” says Doug Lynch, vice president of business development-North America for LycoRed, Orange, N.J.
The company’s Tomat-O-Red color uses lycopene, the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color. Using a patented process, lycopene crystals are extracted from ripe tomatoes and then formulated to create various shades of red for foods and beverages.
“This is very similar to beta-carotene’s stability characteristics, which is why more food companies are turning to it when faced with formulation challenges,” says Lynch. “We’ve created an all-natural color shift that starts with a reddish orange that takes you all the way to the blue orange commonly found in strawberry flavors, all while being stable, vegetarian, Kosher and non-GMO.”
LycoRed’s new Lyc-O-Beta® Intense is used in beverages and achieves an intense yellow-orange shade, helping processors use less of the ingredient overall and keep costs down, all while meeting consumer needs. “There has really been a lack of options until now,” says Lynch. “And manufacturers are really responding to give consumers the natural product they’re demanding.”