- Fermentalg, a French microalgae technology company, is bringing its natural blue color, Blue Origins, to market through a commercial development agreement with the U.S. industrial group DDW, according to Food Ingredients First.
- In addition to expanding its distribution, the French company will scale up its product portfolio using $21.2 million in financing that it secured through the end of 2022.
- The natural blue color from Fermentalg is a phycocyanin-based product developed from the galdieria sulphuraria microalgae. This is different than the cyanobacterium extract from spirulina, another algae-based blue natural coloring agent.
For years, synthetic versions of blue were used in candies, cereal, sports beverages and ice cream. As consumer preference turned toward natural alternatives, food and beverage manufacturers began to invest in natural solutions. Color has been an especially important component of this evolution. A 2017 global consumer survey from GNT found 79% of consumers define "natural" as being made without artificial colors.
Blue is a coveted color option, albeit one that is difficult to produce naturally. There are very few natural sources of the color blue, although the list of options is slowly expanding. The algae-based spirulina coloring first received FDA approval in 2013, when Mars petitioned to use the plant in its colored candies.
Since then, ingredients companies have worked to develop and perfect natural blue alternatives. GNT Group has introduced high-intensity blue food coloring made from spirulina. Sensient Food Colors Europe has developed a vibrant natural blue color from spirulina that can be used in confections, gum, ice cream, sorbet and frostings. But there's more than algae-based blues. ADM's Wild Flavors and Specialty Ingredients has the patent on huito blue, a natural coloring that comes from a tropical fruit.
Although a natural option, spirulina has posed difficulties for manufacturers. It's generally not used in beverages because it isn't stable in liquid. It's also temperature sensitive. Additionally, the global supply of the algae is not sufficient to fulfill the need for a natural blue color. In 2016, a Mars executive told the New York Times that in order for the company to produce blue M&Ms with only dyes derived from spirulina, it would need twice the amount of the plant that is available.
Fermentalg makes progress on these shortcomings by improving pH and temperature stability, and introducing a much more scalable supply chain, Philippe Lavielle, Fermentalg’s Chairman and CEO told Food Ingredients First.
A natural blue color that is vibrant and accessible will be enticing to manufacturers. Consumers have come to associate this vibrant hue with novelty and excitement. The color has seen new life with “Classic Blue” named Pantone's 2020 Color of the Year. Huito blue is one of ADM’s top five colors. and Fermentalg is likely to see a similar interest in its algae-derived blue as the color continues to remain popular with consumers.
However, the natural blue dye is not the only thing in Fermentalg’s product portfolio. The French company also has alternative protein solutions and vegan omega-3 additives. The infusion of $21.2 million into the company will likely fund the expansion of these trendy business segments, in addition to ramping up production of natural blue dye.