ColorKitchen has developed a line of powdered natural colors said to maintain their bright hues even after baking, according to Food Navigator.
Founder and CEO Ashley Phelps told the publication her goal was to produce naturally colored products that would stay bright, be flavorless, odorless and shelf-stable — and not raise health concerns like some artificial food dyes.
"There are some liquid natural food colorings out there, but the problem with the liquid natural food colors is it is like a beet juice and it has a shelf life of about six months before the colors start to turn — like a natural color would," Phelps told Food Navigator.
ColorKitchen uses aqueous extracts from various color sources — turmeric (yellow and orange), spirulina (blue-green), beet (red), radish (yellowish red), cabbage (purple) and annatto (yellow) — and spray-dries them onto maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate made from corn, rice or potato starch. These extracts take away any taste, smell or fibers from the colors so only pure color pigments remain, according to the company.
Animal studies have tied artificial dies to a host of illnesses including cancer, hyperactivity, organ damage and birth defects. As consumers demand simpler and more natural ingredients in their foods and beverages, that attitude has extended to other areas such as artificial colors. In order to stay competitive, manufacturers have been phasing out artificial colors in their products. Hershey, General Mills and Campbell Soup, among others, have created new items or reformulated older recipes without artificial colors. That bodes well for companies like Oregon-based ColorKitchen who will likely see growing demand for their products.
Research indicates consumers see a natural color label claim as an important factor when deciding which brands to buy — and many are willing to pay more for it. That's a good thing for manufacturers since formulating foods and beverages with natural colors is typically more expensive than using artificial ones, partly because the amount of pigment is typically lower in natural colors than in the synthethic equivalents, so they have to source more of it.
Colors are an influential aspect since they telegraph anticipated flavors to consumers. Research has found 90% of shoppers make up their minds about buying a product from its color and perceived taste. If the color is appealing, they are more likely to buy it. But if the colors turn them off — some called the natural colors in General Mills' reformulated Trix cereal, for example, "depressing" — they are more likely to steer clear. In this case, General Mills brought back the classic version with artificial colors, so now both Trix versions are available.
It's not easy finding natural sources for all food colors. Ashley Phelps from ColorKitchen told Food Navigator that a particular need is for a natural green that will stay vibrant after it's baked. Blue also has proven to be a difficult challenge for food manufacturers since there aren't many good sources for a natural version and scientists have raised concerns about the artificial one. Spirulina is a common choice for blue-green coloring in foods, although Mars, which has been trying to find a vibrant blue for its blue M&Ms, has said there isn't enough global supply of the algae available for the purpose.
Hershey has reported similar problems. It has struggled to recreate vibrant reds, greens and other colors that give its Jolly Ranchers hard candies their signature brightness without using artificial colors.
Darwin Bratton, Hershey's vice president of research and development, told Food Dive the biggest challenge in changing some products is the limited availability of certain “natural” ingredients like vanilla or the color blue — a problem the company is confident will be rectified as more food companies turn to clean labels and suppliers boost their output.
"We knew it would be very difficult when we embarked on the work," Bratton said.
Nevertheless, natural colors aren't going anywhere, and their popularity continues to grow. According to Nielsen, 29% of consumers say it's very important foods don't contain artificial colors, and 23% would pay more for the privilege. Manufacturers are clearly paying attention and acting accordingly since 68% of the new food and beverage items appearing in the marketplace between September 2015 and August 2016 contained natural colors.