Clean Label Struggle: Natural Colors in Beverage

Contributing Author: Pernille Borre Arskog, Commercial Technical Manager of Chr Hansen

 

Motivation for clean label Colors

The influence of the clean label movement has been felt by almost every facet of the industrial food industry, and the beverage segment is no exception. The demand for clean label beverage alternatives only continues to grow and manufacturers have had to evolve.

Consumer concerns have expanded from avoiding known allergens to seeking out foods and beverages believed to promote healthier lifestyles. This massive shift in priorities is redefining the food and beverage industry.

In 2016, Mintel found of consumers who drink carbonated soft drinks and/or sparkling beverages 32% were concerned about artificial ingredients and 20% stated the use of all-natural ingredients greatly influenced their purchase selection. It is estimated that by 2020 global sales of clean label food and beverage products could reach $180 billion.

 

 

colorants: an evolution of perception

As manufactures begin to reformulate to meet the clean label needs of their consumer base, certain fundamental issues must be addressed — one such area is colorants.

 

Colors are widely used in the food and beverage industry to make food and beverage products more appealing, correct natural variations in color, and replace color lost in processing.

 

Colors are widely used in the food and beverage industry to make food and beverage products more appealing, correct natural variations in color, and replace color lost in processing. Color is often the major contributor in purchasing decisions made by consumers. Food scientists will use an array of products to achieve the desired color attributes for a specific food or beverage item- ranging from natural to synthetic.

Previously, synthetic colors have been easy to use and are in general not affected by other ingredients or production processes. Beverage producers want their product to be attractive throughout the entirety its shelf-life. Consistency is key for beverage companies, in maintaining brand image and integrity.

As the clean label base, has grown, so has the push to move away from synthetic colors.  Coloring agents, which are minimally processed and products of fruit or vegetable juice, are in high demand. These alternatives are considered “natural” or “cleaner” then their chemical and artificial counter parts.

 

 

What actually is  “natural coloring”?

It is important to understand that currently there is not a codified definition for natural when discussing coloring. Most manufacturers must independently determine their standards for what natural means.  This is one of several factors which contribute to the difficulties faced when transitioning from synthetic/chemical colors to natural.

 

reformulation Challenges

Another challenge scientists are met with circles back to consistency. A large goal when reformulating beverage product lines using clean label colors, is to do so without changing the flavor and appearance of the product or the price point.

Fruit and vegetable juices are not as concentrated as more processed colors, which usually requires higher dosages to be used. This increased usage level presents the potential risk of imparting unwanted flavors, that may be detectable in the final product.

Difficult Colors to Nail

As manufacturers, have begun to incorporate natural colors into their products, they have traditionally focused on specific shades: yellow, orange, red, and brown. The latter has a larger share in the carbonated market due to the cola concepts. As the clean label trend, has continued to grow there is an industry challenge to move these specific shades to the market utilizing minimally processed ingredients.

Yellow + Orange

If  food producers are limited to only use minimally processed fruit and vegetable colors, there are shades that cannot be obtained. A prime example of the technical hurdles encountered are that of yellow and orange shade creation.

It can be difficult to achieve a transparent yellow color as the most readily available source would be a yellow carrot.  But yellow-carrot will contain beta carotene which is an oil soluble pigment that needs to be emulsified in-order to become transparent.

Red + Purple + Brown

Currently, the shades red, purple and brown have had a larger share of the clean labeled products due to the accessibility to the technical solutions. Additionally, natural colors have a much longer production process in comparison to synthetics. And unlike synthetic options, natural colors have greater limitations due to seasonality considerations and weather conditions that render certain products unavailable because of price increases.

Color Stability

Companies must also address questions of stability-specifically the effects of oxidation, photo-oxidation and pH. As the reformulation process is worked through, exposure to oxygen and light must be taken into consideration. There are packaging solutions available, utilizing protectants such as rosemary extract, that counteract the negative effects of oxidation on product stability.

In discussing the impact of pH on color, it is necessary to understand that the lowering of acidity can cause a breakdown of color. An example of this would be the blue and green shades mainly used in the sports drink and hydration category. To date there is no clean label solution that works in beverage applications. The natural blue color, spirulina, which is allowed in some food applications in U.S., is not acid stable in an acidic beverage, resulting in fading of the color after a short time.

 

The Price for achieving cleaner labels

Price is another element contributing to the complications faced during reformulation and is very much dependent on the shade and pigment being used.

On average, the CIU (Cost-In-Use) increases 5-15X when converting from synthetic to natural colors — this is because clean label fruit and vegetable juice concentrates are typically 25-30X more expensive than artificial colorants.

Yellow shades are normally less expensive compared to red shades. On average, the CIU (Cost-In-Use) increases 5-15X when converting from synthetic to natural colors — this is because clean label fruit and vegetable juice concentrates are typically 25-30X more expensive than artificial colorants.

 

looking to the future

Despite these factors, the investment in clean label beverage formulation holds the promise of brand value increases. Each year clean product purchases grow, and don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Customers are screaming out for more clean label options and the beverage industry has begun to head the call.

 

 

About the contributing author: Chr. Hansen is the only provider of natural colors that combines 140 years of unique application and regulatory expertise with a strong, extensive global presence and the widest natural color portfolio in the industry.