Plant-based food pigments are growing in popularity as consumers turn away from artificial food dyes, according to Food Ingredients First.
These farm-grown "coloring foods" are becoming available in eye-catching shades that are both sustainable and clean label, the publication said, with some being used in the expanding plant-based meat segment.
Manufacturers told Food Ingredients First some synthetic dyes could gradually be phased out as more natural food colors emerge. Titanium dioxide, which has strong whitening and opacifying effects, could be challenged by a natural replacement for confectionery, instant drinks, sauces and pet food applications called Avalanche from Sensient Technologies.
The market for more naturally colored, farm-grown dyes is growing along with consumer demand. Some food and beverage manufacturers have been phasing out the use of artificial colors in their products because of increasing concern over how healthy and safe they are.
In 2017, Nestlé switched the color source of Butterfinger's yellow center from Yellow 5 and Red 40 to annatto, which is derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Hershey, General Mills and Campbell Soup have created new items or reformulated older recipes without artificial colors. Campbell Soup's Pepperidge Farm brand, for example, has Goldfish Colors snack crackers with hues sourced from plants such as beets, watermelon and sweet peppers.
Such changes resonate with shoppers looking for more natural ingredients on product packaging. According to a 2014 Nielsen study, more than 60% of U.S. consumers cited the absence of artificial colors and flavors as an important factor when making food purchases.
Manufacturers have responded to this trend by developing more natural colors to replace the most commonly used artificial ones. In addition to Sensient's white alternative to titanium dioxide, Food Ingredients First noted India's Roha Group has created red and yellow pigments within its Natracol Noble line made from beta-carotene and curcumin from turmeric.
Other ingredient companies have come up with their own colors. The Netherlands-based GNT Group has introduced a high-intensity blue food coloring under its Exberry brand made from spirulina, a blue-green algae, plus a range of liquid and powder reds, purples and pinks sourced from carrots, blackcurrants, radishes, blueberries and sweet potatoes. Oregon-based ColorKitchen has developed a line of powdered natural colors that claim to maintain their bright hues even after baking.
Not all efforts to remove synthetic dyes have proved successful in the marketplace. Kind Healthy Snacks pulled its Fruit Bites snacks off the market last fall because the company said kids preferred more brightly colored and sweeter snacks. General Mills brought back its classic Trix cereal with artificial colors in 2017 after pledging a year earlier to remove them from all of its cereal brands. According to the company, consumers complained about its healthier update, with some calling the natural colors depressing.
Consumption of synthetic dyes has increased more than five-fold since the 1950s, according to a 2016 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In 2008, CSPI asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban Red 40, Yellow 5 and six other synthetic dyes because it could lead to behavior problems in children. Today, the FDA still includes them on its list of certified color additives.
That could change as more naturally sourced food pigments become commonplace in the food and beverage industry — especially if consumers continue to reward the products they contain with their purchasing dollars.