Whenever global color powerhouse Pantone announces its annual Color of the Year, there tends to be a frenzy to try to produce home goods, clothing and food in that shade.
In 2017, when the color was "Greenery," it was relatively simple for food to be created in that hue. After all, several fruits and vegetables look that way naturally. And last year, fruits and beverages easily displayed the pinkish orange "In Living Coral" hue that Pantone named as the official color of 2019.
Right after Pantone announced "Classic Blue" as the color of 2020, Archer Daniels Midland's Vice President of Essentials Calvin McEvoy told Food Dive his phone was ringing off the hook. ADM's Wild Flavors and Specialty Ingredients has the patent on huito blue, a natural coloring that comes from a tropical fruit. Huito blue is completely natural, stable at different temperatures and pH levels, imparts no taste or texture, has no adverse interactions with other ingredients and can create a vivid, clear blue shade.
And while blue is a popular color, natural solutions that can create it are difficult to find.
Blue "has been for a while the holy grail, but ... I think that we've seen a huge increase in demand for blue products," M.J. Alarcon, ADM's product experience marketing manager for North America, told Food Dive. "With everything related to ... the Instagram effect, many of our customers are looking to create exciting products and fun, and that's why we're seeing these unicorn or blue lapis [food and drinks] everywhere on the internet."
McEvoy said huito blue is one of ADM's top five colors as consumers look more for both natural colors and brightly colored Instagram-worthy things to eat and drink. The color is important on its own, but also to mix with other vibrant shades, like purple and green, as well as providing depth to brown-colored items.
"That's a very strong part of our portfolio," McEvoy said.
Tropical (and traditional)
ADM first discovered huito blue about a decade ago, through its relationships with tropical fruit growers in Central and South America, McEvoy said. The ingredients giant realized its coloring properties when examining what the fruit could do, and started working with it.
Since the coloring comes from the fruit's juice, the FDA allows it to be freely used in food. And because ADM has several patents on it, the company has exclusive rights to turn it into a coloring for food and drink.
Blue "has been for a while the holy grail, but ... I think that we've seen a huge increase in demand for blue products. With everything related to ... the Instagram effect, many of our customers are looking to create exciting products and fun."
Product experience marketing manager, ADM
Until ADM discovered the huito fruit, it had no commercial use anywhere. The fruit, which grows in the Amazon, had only been used for traditional cultural purposes. The company now buys the fruit from the communities that grow it, McEvoy said, and ADM Cares, the company's social responsibility arm, has donated money to NGOs in Peru to build infrastructure to support people living in places where it is grown.
Since the tree that grows the fruit is not formally cultivated and grows wild in the jungle, ADM has a forecasting method to determine its huito blue supply each year, McEvoy said.
"We actually do a census of the fruit and the crop," he said. "We do that census ... every five to seven years — and we've actually got a census plan for 2020 — and that that really gives us a picture of the ... available fruit within that growing region."
Superior to spirulina?
While it's only been about a decade, huito blue has been on the market longer than the other well-known natural blue coloring: spirulina. The algae-based coloring first received FDA approval in 2013.
And while spirulina is popular, it can't do everything. It's generally not used in beverages because it isn't stable in liquid, and it's also temperature sensitive. But huito blue does not have these limitations.
While ADM wouldn't release a list of products using huito blue for confidentiality reasons, Alarcon said it is in applications ranging from ice cream and sauces to pet food, cookies and confectionery.
McEvoy said the color team at ADM works with different juices and other natural pigments to create precisely the right tint customers want. And with a little help from Pantone and other trends, the color is likely to stay at the forefront of manufacturers' minds.
"We're receiving a lot of requests from customers," Alarcon said. "...More and more customers are demanding this, not only because it's natural, but it's still the young trend. It's clean label, etc. So with everything that's happening on the marketplace, I would say that this is literally a hero color for this year."