Available alternatives include purple corn and red beets to replace red No. 40, spirulina instead of blue No. 1, and turmeric, annatto or paprika in place of yellow No. 5 and yellow No. 6. Demand for these raw materials and fluctuating prices may limit market growth, Grand View Research has warned, but continued research and development of new natural ingredients is predicted to drive demand.
Although natural colors are making headway in all food and beverage categories, some segments within the confectionery and frozen novelties segments still account for a large share of synthetic color use.
The natural color trend isn't fading any time soon, but whether it is the right decision for a company to switch out synthetic colors is still a difficult balancing act. Natural colors face many challenges, including price fluctuations for raw materials, heat, pH and light stability, and consumer acceptance of the way the color looks in finished products. Some pigments may need to be used in much greater volumes than their synthetic counterparts, potentially requiring manufacturers to change their recipes.
One big question for food companies is whether their target audience is concerned about synthetic colors in current formulations, and whether they are likely to become worried about them in the future. For some products, natural colors are now almost a given — particularly those intended for young children, which need to get past parental gatekeepers.
In general, about a third of North American consumers (29%) say it’s very important to eat foods without artificial colors, and 23% are willing to pay a premium for them. Although these figures suggest a majority of consumers would still buy synthetically colored foods, manufacturers are taking few chances — 68% of food and beverage products launched in North America from September 2015 to August 2016 used natural colors.
However, while many consumers say they prefer natural versions, there has been some pushback when the final color fails to match up to expectations. Color is an important part of consumer food experience. Often, it signals what flavor to expect, and can even change the way people perceive the flavor of foods. People see red colors as tending to taste sweeter and blue colors giving the impression of saltiness.
Given time, developments in natural colors are likely to make the transition easier for food companies, but there is still work to be done.