- People love colorful food, according to a recent article in Food Business News. Manufacturers love adding it because it can help correct color loss, modify natural variations, enhance hues that are naturally occurring and brighten up foods that are visually bland.
- “In today’s visually centric world, color is equally, if not more important than flavor,” Megan Longhi, dairy technical service manager for Sensient, told Food Business News. “Social media has us seeing color in new and exciting ways, like the recent Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino.”
- As consumers veer away from artificial colors in favor of natural ones, manufacturers work to maintain the expected flavor of a product while modifying the recipe.
The old saying “You eat first with your eyes” is well known among chefs and manufacturers alike. A food’s presentation is the first cue if someone will like it or not. People call upon past experience and natural responses in just seconds to decide what a food will likely taste like. Color is an effective tool in this first "taste test."
Whether the color is naturally or artificially derived makes a big difference to consumers. Research and development firm Lycored performed a study in 2016 asking American moms to compare two versions of strawberry milk. One option used artificial color, the other a tomato-based color. Eighty-eight percent of the mothers said they would be willing to pay more for the natural version. On average, they would pay 47% more to avoid the artificial colors. The study also found there is a "feel good factor," which made the mothers feel better about giving their child a product that looks more homemade.
When it comes to finding natural colors to replace artificial ones, certain colors of the rainbow are more difficult to duplicate. Darwin Bratton, Hershey's vice president of research and development, previously told Food Dive the biggest challenge in changing some products is the limited availability of certain “natural” ingredients like vanilla or the color blue. Hershey has also experienced setbacks when it comes to finding a natural alternative for the bright colors consumers have come to expect in their Jolly Rancher candies. As more companies explore natural colors, solutions shouldn’t be too far behind.
Processed foods are the ones that are most compatible with added colors — as well as the most in need of them. Many food manufacturers like Hershey, General Mills and Campbell Soup are creating new products or reformulating classic recipes to avoid artificial colors, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. Kraft Heinz quietly substituted artificial ingredients for natural ones in its iconic macaroni and cheese, but didn’t announce the change until months later. Consumers apparently didn’t miss the old recipe, and sales likely got a boost from label-reading consumers who were willing to give the blue box a second shot.
When reformulating for natural colors, food needs to taste the same to consumers, so flavor can’t be affected. In addition, the natural color has to be able to withstand the heat of food manufacture and the time sitting on store shelves waiting to be bought. There are a slew of other obstacles, but ingredient developers are finding a way forward. Food giants and companies like Lycored are aggressively working to find these new colors as consumer demand for them isn’t letting up anytime soon.